Nancy Meyers 9781628921748, 9781501396380, 9781628921755

Nancy Meyers is acknowledged as the most commercially successful woman filmmaker of all time, described by Daphne Merkin

285 61 20MB

English Pages [272] Year 2017

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Nancy Meyers
 9781628921748, 9781501396380, 9781628921755

Table of contents :
Cover
Half-title
Title
Copyright
Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements
Preface
Introduction: Women, Hollywood and the Politics of the Popular
1. Key Collaborative Relationships
Meet the Shmeyers: Meyers as Writer- Producer and the ‘Writing Couple’ Leitmotif
2. Ways of Watching
‘The Romcom Queen’: Gender, Genre and Cultural Value
3. Rethinking Authorship
The Wrong Kind of Woman Filmmaker? Meyers and the Quandaries of the Female Auteur
4. Key Concepts
‘Your Age Is One of My Favourite Things About You’: Meyers’s Older Women and the Gendered Experience of Ageing
Conclusion
Bibliography
Index

Citation preview

i

Nancy Meyers

ii

THE BLOOMSBURY COMPANIONS TO CONTEMPORARY FILMMAKERS Series Editor Scott Wilson Other Titles in the Series: Peter Jackson by Alfio Leotta

iii

Nancy Meyers Deborah Jermyn

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2017 Paperback edition first published 2020 Copyright © Deborah Jermyn, 2017 Cover design: Louise Dugdale Cover images: The Holiday (2006) © SONY PICTURES / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / ROSENTHAL, ZADE, The Intern (2015) © WAVERLY FILMS / WARNER BROS. / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / DUHAMEL, FRANCOIS, It’s Complicated (2009) © RELATIVITY MEDIA / THE KOBAL COLLECTION, Something’s Gotta Give (2003) © COLUMBIA / TRI-STAR / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / MARSHAK, BOB, What Women Want (2000) © PARAMOUNT / THE KOBAL COLLECTION / COOPER, ANDREW All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Inc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Jermyn, Deborah, 1970– author. Title: Nancy Meyers / Deborah Jermyn. Description: New York, NY : Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. | Series: The Bloomsbury companions to contemporary filmmakers | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Includes filmography. Identifiers: LCCN 2016058529 (print) | LCCN 2017000279 (ebook) | ISBN 9781628921748 (hardback : alk. paper) | ISBN 9781628921755 (ePDF) | ISBN 9781628921762 (ePUB) Subjects: LCSH: Meyers, Nancy–Criticism and interpretation. Classification: LCC PN1998.3.M4925 J48 2017 (print) | LCC PN1998.3.M4925 (ebook) | DDC 791.4302/33092–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016058529 ISBN: HB: 978-1-6289-2174-8 PB: 978-1-5013-5890-6 ePDF: 978-1-6289-2175-5 eBook: 978-1-6289-2176-2 Series: The Bloomsbury Companions to Contemporary Filmmakers Typeset by Newgen Knowledge Works Pvt Ltd, Chennai, India To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

v

For the 3 Ms who make everything possible

vi

vi

CONTENTS

List of Illustrations viii Acknowledgements x Preface xii

Introduction: Women, Hollywood and the Politics of the Popular 1 1 Key Collaborative Relationships Meet the Shmeyers: Meyers as Writer-Producer and the ‘Writing Couple’ Leitmotif 29

2 Ways of Watching ‘The Romcom Queen’: Gender, Genre and Cultural Value 65

3 Rethinking Authorship The Wrong Kind of Woman Filmmaker? Meyers and the Quandaries of the Female Auteur 109

4 Key Concepts ‘Your Age Is One of My Favourite Things About You’: Meyers’s Older Women and the Gendered Experience of Ageing 161

Conclusion

215

Bibliography 221 Index 245

vi

ILLUSTRATIONS

1.1 ‘Any movie that had a desk in it for a woman I liked,’ Meyers has said: in The Intern (2015) Jules is the emblematic ‘woman-at-her-desk’ seen throughout Meyers’s films. 43 1.2 Shopping for nappies in a power suit: the image of J. C. Wiatt in Baby Boom encumbered with briefcase and baby became an iconic image for the struggle to ‘have it all’. 52 2.1 What (Wo)Men Want: Nick (Mel Gibson) dances to Sinatra in his bachelor pad against the Chicago skyline. 76 2.2 The couple in crisis in the ‘stripped away’ climax to What Women Want. 85 2.3 Composer Miles (Jack Black) deconstructs the music of romcom, playing ‘Arthur’s theme’ with Iris (Kate Winslet) in The Holiday. 99 3.1 ‘A personal project inspired by [the] awesome film The Intern’: artist Zhanna Bulankova’s fan-art celebrates Meyers’s work with detailed graphic design illustrations (image reproduced courtesy of Zhanna Bulankova). 117 3.2 Hallie (Lindsay Lohan) ‘at work’ in a photoshoot at her mother’s designer wedding dress studio in The Parent Trap, delivering the playful dress-up montage seen in countless ‘chick flicks’. 134 3.3 & 3.4 ‘Not a love story’: The Intern DVD features Nancy Meyers discussing the retreat from romantic relationships in the film, and captures her at work on set. 137 3.5 ‘I hate to be the feminist here’: a concerned Ben (Robert De Niro) watches over Jules (Anne Hathaway) after their heartto-heart in The Intern. 142 3.6 ‘That whole floor plan is based on that moment’: Erica (Diane Keaton) and Harry (Jack Nicholson) rendezvous for late night snacks and cautious flirtation in Something’s Gotta Give. 151

ix

ILLUSTRATIONS

ix

3.7 ‘The kitchen is the movie’: Erica plans pancakes for her and Harry at home on the much-coveted set of Something’s Gotta Give. 153 3.8 Shock and awe at the pool: Iris runs around Amanda’s mansion in wonder on arriving at her splendid LA houseswap in The Holiday. 157 4.1 Zoe (Frances McDormand) delivers her ‘home run’, calling out the inequities of ageing, gender and dating in Something’s Gotta Give. 183 4.2 Jane (Meryl Streep) and Adam (Steve Martin) get closer afterhours over croissants at her lavish Santa Barbara bakery in It’s Complicated. 194 4.3 ‘A table for one’: An elegant Jane sashays confidently into her hotel bar in New York, before things take an unexpected turn with ex-husband Jake in It’s Complicated. 200

x

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I wrote this book in a period when universities have been under increasing pressure to reform their business in all sorts of ways. And yet it seems to me that one enduring ‘perk of the job’ remains unscathed, and that is to be part of a profession where the people one works with so often become more than just colleagues or ‘contacts’, but friends and collaborators in the richest and most rewarding senses of these words. So many such people have contributed in one way or another to the writing of this book that I couldn’t begin to thank them all by name here. But I want to express gratitude to a few who have particularly helped in various ways in more recent times – in sharing conversations about Meyers and romcom and chick flicks and women filmmakers, in extending invitations to speak on these themes, in their own writing on these topics, in reading drafts of the work collected here and in sometimes just not glazing over when I  talked about this book (again)  – thank you for your generosity Caroline Bainbridge, Craig Batty, Lucy Bolton, Shelley Cobb, Celestino Deleyto, Cathy Fowler, Alice Guilluy, Hannah Hamad, Mary Harrod, Su Holmes, Betty Kaklamanidou, David Lusted, Diane Negra, Karen Randell and Sean Redmond. I am grateful to my colleagues in the Department of Media, Culture and Language at the University of Roehampton, not least for the period of study leave that afforded me the opportunity to undertake much of the research here, to Alice Underwood for her tech support and to the students I have worked with on my ‘Screen Women’ module. Fellow members of the Women’s Film and Television History Network in the UK have provided all sorts of encouragement and inspiration. I am grateful also to have had the opportunity to talk about Meyers in many different contexts, thanks to the British Film Institute (BFI), the Irish Film Institute, the Being Human Festival of the Humanities, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and Aristotle University of

xi

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

xi

Thessaloniki, the University of Copenhagen, Newcastle University, the University of Maryland, De Montfort University, the University of Zaragoza, Bournemouth University and the University of Bedfordshire – this book has been enormously enriched by the various audiences I have met on these occasions. Kath Barrow and Nova Matthias were the finest ‘research assistants’ in Hollywood I could ever have hoped to have, while Nathalie Weidhase did a great job in this role closer to home. Staff at the Reuben Library at the BFI Southbank and at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in LA were supremely helpful and patient. Zhanna Bulankova generously allowed me to reproduce her artwork inspired by The Intern, and Zoe Anker very kindly shared her photographic talents with me. The older I get and the longer I teach, the more grateful I am to have had the teachers I had from the very start, and the more indebted I feel to them for the things they equipped me with. In particular, it was my good fortune to find myself studying Film/Lit at the University of Warwick in the early 1990s and to have worked with the people I did there, whose writing, generosity and teaching I increasingly understand were the best examples I could have had to learn from. Thank you also to my attentive Production Manager Shyam Sundar; my supremely encouraging and supportive editors at Bloomsbury, Katie Gallof, Mary Al-Sayed and Susan Krogulski; and to series editor Scott Wilson, who were completely behind this project from the word go and never doubted that Nancy Meyers warranted ‘a book of her own’. Thanks and love finally to Matt, Miranda and Miles – this book is for you, and stole far too many hours from you, but the times I spent with you in Shere contemplating it were its most precious. Some elements of Chapter 4 were previously published in my chapters, ‘ “Glorious, Glamorous and That Old Standby, Amorous”: The Late Blossoming of Diane Keaton’s Romantic Comedy Career’, in Celebrity Studies, 3.1 (2012); and ‘ “The (Un-Botoxed) Face of a Hollywood Revolution”: Meryl Streep and the “Greying” of Mainstream Cinema’, in Imelda Whelehan and Joel Gwynne (eds), Ageing, Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and are drawn on again here with thanks.

xi

PREFACE

May 2014. A BBC journalist was on the phone. It was shortly to be the twentieth anniversary of the release of Four Weddings and A  Funeral (Newell, 1994), one of the best loved, most successful British films and romantic comedies in film history. There was going to be a lot of coverage in the British media marking this milestone. I’d published a number of articles and a co-edited collection on romantic comedy, and taught Film degree classes on it – could the BBC interview me for a story? I felt like a bit of a fraud as I told them that not only had I not seen the film in years, but also I was that strange thing – a British person who didn’t really like the film. To be honest, my overwhelming memory was of being a bit annoyed by it. Not to worry, said the journalist. We want to interview you for a story called ‘Why is the term romcom used so negatively?’, and I agreed this was a thorny question that had often troubled me and one that I would happily talk about. So an interview took place, where I spoke about how the pejorative use of the term was often imbricated with the assumption of an undiscerning female audience, and of mindless formulaic repetition which failed to acknowledge the capacity of the genre to make social comment; and I noted that this had not been the case with historical predecessors like the screwball comedy which were often received enthusiastically by both critics and public. I  mentioned that, like all genres, romcom had to keep bringing new inflections to bear to avoid becoming stale, and that It’s Complicated (Meyers, 2009) was a good example of this for the way it had centred on an older ‘love-triangle’, where a middle-aged divorced couple rekindle their relationship and have an affair. An accessible and pretty sympathetic story raising some of these issues appeared on the BBC website (Khan, 2014), where I was cited alongside others who were presumably invested in thinking about the romcom as a genre

xi

PREFACE

xiii

with the capacity to be textured and intelligent, while simultaneously entertaining and amusing. Billy Mernit, author of Writing the Romantic Comedy (2000), who has taught the genre on the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, and Ben Palmer and Tess Morris, the director and screenwriter of Man Up (2015), the British romcom starring Simon Pegg and Lake Bell in production at that time all featured. The story when it came out was not groundbreaking. Nevertheless, it was rather refreshing and unusual, I  thought, to see an article make an effort to be even-handed in considering the appeal and the possibilities of the much-maligned romcom, to try to unpack where the instant derision of it springs from, rather than just add fuel to it. Then the journalist (@yasmeenkhan1) tweeted news of her story with a link to the website: I spoke to writer @TheTessMorris, film experts @mernitman + @deborahjermyn + director Ben Palmer about romcoms http:// www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27238736. And the exchange that ensued, though brief, was intriguing. The first response went as follows, before others replied in these ways: – ‘Great article – despite praise for It’s Complicated!:) #beige’. – ‘Nancy Meyers has done a fair bit to damage perception of the genre. Too long, bland’. – ‘But Meryl has SUCH an awesome house in that film’. – ‘The Holiday, for example, is seven hours long. And nothing happens’. – ‘. . . and The Holiday is really a softcore designer-porno about two beautiful homes in love’. – ‘The only bit I choose to remember from that film is the Jack Black “boob graze” ’. – ‘I remember the general Jack Black “WTF am I doing in this piece of treacle?!” gaze’. I watched, bemused, as what was meant to be a social media plug for a story outlining a more considered approach to thinking about the romcom morphed instead into a forum for bashing Nancy Meyers and her work. The director of just five films at this time (namely, The Parent Trap (1998); What Women Want (2000); Something’s Gotta Give (2003); The Holiday (2006); and

vxi

xiv

PREFACE

It’s Complicated (2009), a body of work which has since grown to include The Intern (2015)), the predominance of romantic comedy in her oeuvre has earned her the moniker of Hollywood’s ‘romcom queen’ (Babb, 2010, my emphasis; see also Bond, 2010; Jacobs, 2015), along with other regal monikers like ‘Hollywood’s queen of the chick flick’ (Stein, 2006; see also Fox, 2006; Lewis, 2009–10), ‘queen of the late-in-life-love story’ (Erbland, 2014) and ‘Queen of saccharine’ (Goodridge, 2006). Yet with still such a relatively small body of directorial work to her name, and given the extended periods that have passed between her films, it clearly is not the vast volume of romantic comedies she has made that has bestowed the title ‘romcom queen’ upon her. Rather, for those familiar with the genre, she has developed a distinctive ‘brand’ that they now identify and anticipate. Hers is a mode in which lovingly drawn mise-enscene combines with an affection for the golden age of Hollywood elegance and classical style, contemplative dialogue and story turns (hence the repeated complaint her films are ‘too long’), and characters and settings drawn from a privileged (and resolutely white) milieu. Indeed, the Screen International review of The Holiday boiled it down even more simply to say Meyers has ‘established her own brand of contemporary rom-com: guilty pleasure fantasies of love and longing set among successful people in their multi-million dollar residences’ (Goodridge, 2006). Crucially, though, this characteristic attention to lavish sets and the upper middle class has become a stick to beat her with, as much as a descriptive marker of a ‘Meyers style’. Furthermore, anyone with an interest in box office results will know her romcoms stand out among her peers too, not just for their distinctively tasteful design, but for having generated a great deal of profit. What Women Want became both the most commercially successful romcom of all time1 and the most commercially successful film of all time directed by a woman at the point of its release (making just shy of $183m in the United States alone; see Babb, 2010). But in this Twitter exchange, Meyers’s name is evoked only to signal what is wrong with romantic comedy; it is an opportunity for snappy jibes about how her films are annoying, how they are ‘#beige’ and ‘bland’, rather than pleasurable. And this is the case even among people who seemed ostensibly to be open-minded about the gratifications and the attractions of the romcom – who critiqued its ‘bad press’ in Khan’s article – yet who also, it seemed, enjoyed the occasion to share disdain for Meyers and her films.

xv

PREFACE

xv

Obviously some of this has to do with the nature of Twitter and its trade in ‘pithy’ rejoinders. But the short exchange of 140character messages actually revealed a number of traits that I have come to see as common in the reception of Meyers in the process of researching this book about her. These are traits which I  will unravel at greater length in what follows, as I trace how one of the most significant women practitioners in post-classical Hollywood has been the subject both of academic neglect and continued critical denigration, and as I make the case for a more nuanced, comprehensive and measured consideration of her work than has as yet been undertaken. In this Twitter exchange, there is nothing recognizing how enormously popular her films have been, or contemplating the possible pleasures of her work. They are all about empty gloss, about superficialities, not substance we learn. Indeed, as shall become evident in this book, reviewers return repeatedly to the issue of how Nancy Meyers’s films look; in particular her films’ (professedly overly opulent) houses. These have taken on a kind of cultural currency of their own, pored over on design websites and blogs by interior design professionals, journalists and fans (see, for example, Abramovitch, 2012; Locations Hub, 2013; Ryan, 2015; Stamp, 2015, as well as the multiple entries for Meyers’s films on the popular ‘Hooked on Houses’ blog (Sweeten, 2008)). Yet at the same time, they are regularly maligned by film critics who see her devotion to intricate texture, colour and style coordination as a kind of empty and shallow distraction. In this way, a skill, a distinctive quality that one can well imagine would be remarked on as ‘an eye for detail’ in a male director, is used in Meyers’s case to imply she can’t really ‘do’ more substantial work like original character or plot (consider, for example, how Douglas Sirk’s lavish use of Technicolor became seen as a marker of the masterful and expressive emotive range of his films rather than merely a similarly predictable and ostentatious gimmick). And her films are saccharine, we are told – in this exchange, compared to ‘treacle’ – which is to say, sickly sweet nonsense. Such food metaphors are again prevalent in the reception of her work (The Guardian, for example, called The Holiday ‘the celluloid equivalent of having melted Mars Bars poured down your throat’ (Bradshaw, 2006)), as they are in romcom broadly (see also Glitre, 2011: 26). They suggest that there is no nourishing artistic sustenance to be had here, often conjuring up an image of women audiences lacking

xvi

xvi

PREFACE

restraint and willpower gorging themselves on sugary goodies they should know aren’t good for them. Particularly interesting, though, is the familiar and belittling invoking of her work as a form of lifestyle porn, a description which again comes up repeatedly in reviews of her work (see, for example, LaPorte (2009); Lennon (2009); Wolcott (2010: 45); Bradshaw (2010)). While the popular and flippant usage of the ‘-porn’ suffix has become common in the vernacular of postfeminist discourses, it is striking here for the insidious manner in which it operates as a reminder that the person behind these films is a woman. The flippant suggestion that Meyers makes ‘softcore designer-pornos’ glibly denigrates her skills as a female director (and, by extension, questions and undermines the tastes of her audiences), slyly reminding us in the process that she is out of place in having achieved such mainstream commercial momentum in Hollywood, that the ‘proper’ territory for women in film lies not somewhere behind the camera or in command of it, but in the realm of sexualized spectacle. In some ways, appropriately enough for a woman director whose career predates and spans the shift from second wave feminism to postfeminism, the use of the porn ‘metaphor’ is the ultimate postfeminist putdown of her work; if you don’t think it’s funny or see it’s meant ‘ironically’ (Gill, 2007) then the problem is with (uptight) you, not the (cool) person using it to take a shot at Nancy Meyers. In the series of tweets above, none of the exchanges begin to engage with how significant her achievements are in an industry that has consistently marginalized and excluded women filmmakers. Instead, what this moment from the Twitterverse postulated is that there is a reason why the contemporary romcom gets a bad rap, there is someone who sums up (or at least, who we can blame for) this scorn for the genre – and that is Nancy Meyers.

How To Use This Book Film, Media and Cultural Studies students will be able to use this study as a reference book in multiple ways. Chapter 1, ‘Key Collaborative Relationships’, engages with questions of how film might be productively understood through a lens that recognizes how filmmaking operates as a collective art form. Here, this most particularly entails exploring how Meyers’s close working

xvi

PREFACE

xvii

relationship with Charles Shyer meant that their creative roles bled across one another, and provided the foundations for her tripartite status today as a writer-producer-director in contemporary Hollywood. Such analysis of working relationships can be complex to undertake, depending on the nature and size of the ‘archive’ of material available. In addition, then, this analysis serves to give instruction about how to locate themes and build analysis across diverse records such as newspaper and magazine interviews, studio press releases and trade and industry periodicals. Chapter 2, ‘Ways of Watching’, will be of particular relevance to students interested in genre. Here, following summaries of existing critical work on romantic comedy, the romcom genre becomes an exemplary case for examining the cultural hierarchies that genre operates within; in this instance, examining how the gendering of romantic comedy is used to denigrate and dismiss such filmmaking. Chapter 3, ‘Rethinking Authorship’, invites students to return to significant and enduring debates around authorship and film, asking why Meyers has yet to be written into film history as an auteur, when she can evidently be found to meet the required criteria. What are the processes by which women filmmakers in particular are allowed into ‘the canon’? In reflecting on this question, and underlining the problems inherent in the notion of the canon, this chapter will be particularly useful also to students interested in feminist film criticism. Finally, Chapter 4, ‘Key Concepts’, provides an extended analysis of how ageing and older women have come to be understood as the cornerstone of Meyers’s popular appeal – in terms both of the characters she creates, and the audience(s) she speaks to. This chapter will be especially useful to students interested in questions of representation, identity and audience, then. In particular, it addresses what has long been Film and Media Studies’ neglect of how age is actually a fundamental constituent of identity, demonstrating how it demands our attention just like (indeed alongside) class, race, sexuality, gender, and so forth. This book is driven by a desire to take apart the postulation noted above, that Nancy Meyers is somehow of interest primarily as a figurehead for all that is ‘wrong’ with the contemporary romcom. Drawing on textual analysis, reviews and media coverage, existing scholarship on Meyers and a range of theoretical modes of enquiry including romcom theory, close textual analysis and feminist film criticism, this book pursues the most detailed look at

xvii

xviii

PREFACE

Meyers’s career yet undertaken. It examines her films as director in depth, and considers her early screenwriting and producing collaborations. In addition, it interrogates how ‘Nancy Meyers’ has been constructed by much of the critical establishment according to a particular and frequently denigrating kind of gendered shorthand. I  position her career and body of work within a range of critical, historical, institutional and cultural contexts, such as the gendered inequities and imbalances of Hollywood filmmaking; the relationship between gender, genre and cultural value; feminist film analysis and critical approaches to authorship and women directors; and shifting historical inflections of feminism, which her body of work engages with and takes place within. Finally, this book insists that we give Nancy Meyers and her films the kind of adequately detailed and reflective consideration they have long since been due  – and it finds this is one of those discussions that just can’t take place adequately in 140 characters.

Note 1 The box office performances of the top romantic comedies since 1978 can be found at http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/ ?id=romanticcomedy.htm. What Women Want’s domestic box office of $183m was surpassed in 2002 by My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which generated over $241m.

1

Introduction Women, Hollywood and the Politics of the Popular

If writing this book has underlined anything, it is that Nancy Meyers is a conundrum. As we saw in the Preface, she has directed just six films to date.1 Nevertheless, Hollywood buffs familiar with the last two decades might quite likely observe how noteworthy these films have been in terms of their accumulated box office dollars, especially for films largely positioned as ‘chick flicks’. At the same time, it is entirely possible that they wouldn’t be able to name her as the director of any of them, or have realized she is the director behind them all; indeed, in a Huffington Post interview in 2015 to publicize the release of The Intern, star Robert De Niro was apparently surprised to learn that Meyers was the director of What Women Want (‘You directed that?’ he asks her, laughing, according to the article. ‘That was me,’ Meyers confirms) (Jacobs, 2015). So it will be instructive at the outset, then, to take a brief passage through Meyers’s directorial career to date while introducing key themes that this book will be concerned with. Because despite the commercial success of her films and the impressive length of her career in the notoriously cutthroat (and sexist) world of Hollywood which dates back to her screenwriting debut in 1980 with Private Benjamin, and indeed notwithstanding the adoring commentary on her Instagram account which suggests a highly dedicated fan following, Meyers’s name is not necessarily one which carries popular recognition. Admittedly, Meyers has not exactly been highly prolific as a director, as is clear from the considerable hiatuses between her films. She has noted she works slowly and intermittently, by choice (‘I couldn’t do it any more often . . . Since I’ve been directing, I take

2

2

NANCY MEYERS

a full year off. Then I  write and, that takes close to a year. Then there’s the six months of getting it together and prepping. So I make a movie about every three years. I don’t think I could go any faster’ (Dawes, 2009)). Still, Francesca Babb claimed in a 2010 article in The Independent that Meyers is at that ‘elusive level of success where her name on a film poster will be as much of a pull for audiences as her actors’ (2010). Somewhat contradictorily, though, in the same article Babb also concedes that despite Meyers’s name being ubiquitous across LA advertising spots at the time of her interview due to publicity for It’s Complicated, her readers ‘might take a moment to register why [they] know that name’ (ibid.). Furthermore, her assertion of Meyers’s visibility lies in contrast to Daphne Merkin’s lengthy profile of the director in the New York Times published just weeks earlier in 2009, which tells a very different tale. In contrast to Babb, Merkin opens with an awkward account of how in the course of their interview she and Meyers were asked to vacate their table in a Hollywood restaurant when some more important guests arrived; something no acknowledged A-lister or top Hollywood ‘powerplayer’ would likely have to contend with (Merkin, 2009). And in 2015 a similarly inflected story unfolded in an LA Times interview as she did publicity for The Intern; ‘petite, crisply dressed at a busy Brentwood breakfast spot on a recent morning, she spied an Oscarwinning screenwriter across the room. “I’ll introduce you,” she said. “He’ll have no idea who I am” ’ (Keegan, 2015). In fact, long before she even turned to directing, Meyers had enjoyed an impressive screenwriting and producing career throughout the 1980s and 1990s with her long-term creative and domestic partner Charles Shyer, who also directed most of their scripts. As a screenwriter and producer with Shyer, Meyers commenced her movie career, as already remarked, in quite spectacular fashion in 1980 with the acclaimed comedy Private Benjamin.2 Starring Goldie Hawn as a seemingly spoilt ‘Jewish-American princess’ (an objectionable but resilient term constituting a ‘racist, sexist caricature’ as Meyers has observed (Pfefferman, 2003)), the film subsequently unravels the stereotype when Judy joins the US Army, embraces a new independence and finally abandons her unfulfilling search for romance and marriage by triumphantly jilting her odious fiancé at their wedding. In the process, the film won Meyers, Shyer and co-writer Harvey Miller a screenwriting Oscar nomination – a remarkable feat for a first-time screenwriter, yet one often

3

INTRODUCTION

3

overlooked in dismissive accounts of Meyers – and prompted a TV series of the same name (CBS, 1981–83). As a writing duo, Meyers and Shyer penned five films, also directed by Shyer. These consisted of Irreconcilable Differences (1984), about a couple (Shelley Long and Ryan O’Neal) who become Hollywood scriptwriters and allow their careers to become so all-encompassing that their narcissism and work-life imbalance destroy their relationships both with each other and with their daughter (Drew Barrymore) who decides to ‘divorce’ them; Baby Boom (1987), one of the decade’s most enduring zeitgeist movies (which also gave rise to a TV series (NBC, 1988–89)), starring Diane Keaton as a super-charged ‘yuppie’ who is appalled when she inherits a baby girl, but eventually leaves her corporate New York lifestyle and child-unfriendly workplace to realize a more fulfilling existence and her own business in rural Vermont; Father of the Bride/Father of the Bride Part II (1991; 1995)3 remaking and updating the original Spencer Tracey and Joan Bennett classics, with Steve Martin and Diane Keaton starring as parents coming to terms with their daughter growing up and getting married, and, in the second film, becoming a new mother just as they unexpectedly find themselves about to become parents again too; and I Love Trouble (1994), starring Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts as investigative journalists in Chicago, competing for the scoop on a major corruption story and falling in love along the way. Beyond these titles, they also collaborated as part of a larger writing team on Private Benjamin; Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986) (in which Meyers was given a writing credit as ‘Patricia Irving’, a composite of her parents’ names, and which the pair worked on as a rewrite (Cherubin, 1985: B4)); and Once Upon a Crime (1992), while also getting a ‘Story’ credit (with Harvey Miller again) on Protocol (1984).4 Importantly, then, and unusually among woman practitioners in Hollywood, whose professional lives so recurrently struggle to get off the ground yet alone maintain long-term momentum, Meyers’s film career bridges the period moving from the second and third through to recent professed fourth waves of feminism, and the move to ‘postfeminism’ since the 1980s. Perhaps only Nora Ephron can be compared, being another woman practitioner who similarly started out in journalism before becoming a Hollywood fixture with a movie career incorporating screenwriting, producing and directing – and in films often contemplating women’s perspectives,

4

4

NANCY MEYERS

relationships, romance and break-ups, made over much the same period. As James Parker noted of the two women in The Atlantic, ‘They’ve been through big-F Feminism, witnessed the divorce marathon, the reshuffling of roles . . . Thematically, [there’s] not much daylight between them. Both women sharpened their mots justes on the complications of life after feminism, the raised consciousness and the lowered anxiety threshold’ (2009: 36–7).

The Parent Trap (1998) Following almost twenty years’ experience writing and producing alongside Shyer, then, it might be said Meyers played a rather safe entry into directing by making her debut in 1998 with a remake of The Parent Trap (1961). She had seemingly opted not to direct Father of the Bride Part II three years earlier when the opportunity arose, saying, ‘I didn’t want my first directing movie to be a sequel to a movie Charles directed. I  didn’t think that would be fulfilling’ (Rochlin, 2000). But as Margy Rochlin observes in the New  York Times, Meyers’s subsequent ‘choice of debut material didn’t seem much more of a stretch’ (ibid.). Indeed, one reviewer later remarked, ‘What Women Want is Meyers’ second film after The Parent Trap but it’s really her first when you come down to it’ (Schweiger, 2001: 28). Arguably, however, it was a smart choice on which to cut her directorial teeth, since The Parent Trap constituted a warmly remembered, established or ‘presold’ entity. An update of the 1961 Disney classic written and directed by David Swift and starring Hayley Mills as long-separated twin girls brought together again by fate, Meyers adapted the screenplay with Shyer (who was by then her husband, the two having married in 1995). She apparently herself approached Joe Roth, then the head of Disney, to ask ‘if I could have it to remake’ (Lewis, 2010: 125) – this marking the first occasion she, and not Shyer, would be directing one of their co-written scripts. While of course any remake runs the risk of being received as a poor substitute for a popular original, equally, remakes can benefit from the fact that a winning ‘formula’ has to some degree already been tested, and a curious audience with fond memories of the original is there to be potentially mined. Meyers’s Parent Trap was arguably most excitedly received and is most enduringly remembered,

5

INTRODUCTION

5

however, not just as the remake of a still-treasured 1960s children’s classic, but as the film debut of Lindsay Lohan, whose career has since followed the high-profile, perpetually enthralling path of ‘gifted-child-star-becomes-train-wreck-celebrity’. Here, to great acclaim, Lohan played the dual role of Hallie Parker/Annie James (named for Meyers’s and Shyer’s own daughters), twin girls improbably separated from one another as babies without knowledge of the other when their parents split up, who serendipitously meet one another at summer camp years later and plot to reunite their parents and become a family again. A gently diverting family film which, as I  will discuss, nevertheless helped establish qualities central to the Meyers ‘signature’, it grossed over $92m worldwide (boxofficemojo.com) and ensured more directorial invitations would be eagerly making their way to her.

What Women Want (2000) Next up came What Women Want, where again Meyers acted as co-producer and on which she has insisted she played a major role on the final script although she ultimately went uncredited for this. Notably, this was Meyers’s first film project made without the collaboration of partner Shyer, and the timing of this professional break from him is significant in that their marriage had broken down during the making of The Parent Trap. Indeed, in trying to determine what her first project independent of Shyer should be, she had told her agent she was thinking of a rewrite, in part because ‘I thought it would be kind of like having a partner’ (Larocca, 2015: 3). What Women Want was a runaway commercial success making $374m globally5 (boxofficemojo.com) at a time when Mel Gibson was one of Hollywood’s leading male star commodities. Here he plays Nick Marshall, a charming but utterly unscrupulous, chauvinistic advertising guru who has a romantic epiphany when he falls for his new boss Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). Despite its mammoth success at the box office, however, plenty of reviews expressed reservations about the film, often centring on the disquieting pleasure it sometimes seemingly took in Nick’s controlling scheming, as he is able to manipulate Darcy and all the women around him, having magically gained the ability to hear their thoughts. In the absence of audience research on the film, one can only speculate that it was its

6

6

NANCY MEYERS

‘man’s view’ on women’s inner lives, this often very macho, straight, male (if not sometimes misogynist) perspective, that meant the film reached out to male audiences in a manner and to a degree somewhat unusual for the romcom at that time. The romcom is a genre overwhelmingly understood in contemporary times as targeting, and being subsequently consumed by, a predominantly female audience, though the actual constituency of its audience(s) is an arena that warrants closer research. Certainly, the landscape has been complicated by the more recent generic development of the more overtly male-centred ‘hommecom’ (Jeffers McDonald, 2009) and Judd Apatow’s oeuvre particularly. But What Women Want’s more readily cross-gendered appeal at this time, clearly marked through the foregrounding of Nick as the lead protagonist and Gibson as a star with appeal that would speak to men as much as women, at least in part accounts for the striking box office performance it garnered as a film in this seemingly delimited, gendered genre. Indeed, Daryl Wiggers has argued that Meyers’s films are not ‘chick flicks’, with the bounded interests this suggests, but are watched by and appeal readily to both men and women (2010). In a similar vein, James Parker’s 2009 article examining the shared appeal of Nora Ephron and Meyers carried the subheader ‘Not Just Chick Flicks, [Their Movies] Defy Categorization and Provide a Sentimental Education for Everyone’ (2009, my emphasis). Certainly Meyers herself has pointed to the problematic pejorative use of the term ‘chick-flick’ while indicating that she believes the appeal of her films traverses simplistic notions of gendered tastes, noting ‘[somehow] there’s a judgment attached to it, and that judgment is never applied to films that men also go to, though I don’t think my movies are just attended by women’ (Larocca, 2015). But while What Women Want seemingly indulges Nick’s machismo at times, alongside its fantastical elements and romantic storyline it also provides something of an indictment of gendered office politics and the ongoing delimiting of women’s advancement through the corporate workplace despite the seeming advances of third-wave feminism. What Women Want can be regarded as an ‘uneven’ film, in potentially fruitful ways, where the persistent sense of discord in this ‘workplace romance’ gives rise to the possibility of conflictual and irregular readings. This is a generic romantic comedy in very many ways, and yet it constructs a hero so frequently

7

INTRODUCTION

7

reprehensible that the film struggles to convincingly redeem him (if that is indeed what it seeks to do); and it is such moments of dissonance that raise some most intriguing questions about whether Meyers may indeed be something more besides that which she is typically credited with being – a filmmaker who ‘in short [makes] crowd-pleasers’ where ‘all the stuff that seems annoyingly contrived is a calculated part of the populist appeal’ (Groen, 2009). Polysemy is inescapably ingrained in the substance of any text, of course. But in Meyers’s films this potential is particularly loaded, since she is recurrently spoken of in terms, like Groen’s above, as only a highly formulaic filmmaker whose films are essentially parochial; one whose oeuvre speaks to the conservative, commercial impulse of the industry she works in as well as the allegedly highly traditionalist gender politics of the romcom, which is generally understood to posit that conventional heterosexual union is the primary end its characters and audiences should aspire to. In the chapters that follow, I  will unpick this presumption, while still acknowledging how such an interpretation of Meyers’s films can undoubtedly find substantiating instances across her work. But, I argue, importantly, these exist alongside other equally striking moments of seeming social critique or cultural commentary where she uses genre and comedy to deliver some astute intercessions. As one of the precious few instances of a woman director who has worked with regularity for a sustained period in contemporary Hollywood, what are the repercussions of her being bestowed so overwhelmingly with such a turgid critical reputation? How does the popularization of this highly one-dimensional interpretation of her work, like the use of the belittling porn suffix repeatedly attached to her work by critics (cf. ‘decor-porn’ and ‘designer-porno’), help keep her in her place, hold her back from wider recognition and scholarly attention and close down willingness to examine her films in other ways? Once we begin to look at her films more fully and attend to those aspects of both dissonance and pleasure present in her work, once we ponder the possibility that her films may be generic ‘crowd-pleasers’ while still also performing other kinds of cultural work alongside or beyond this, Meyers stands to gain her place at the table of film history. This is a book, then, written from a feminist perspective, one that sets out to examine the matrix of ‘women, Hollywood and the politics of the popular’ figured in and by Nancy Meyers. It is also a

8

8

NANCY MEYERS

book in which I won’t claim that Meyers has been misunderstood, and is actually an unfairly maligned indubitable feminist interventionist, although in fact she has at various times unambiguously expressed a staunch feminist politics. In one of her earlier interviews, for example, in 1985 she expresses concerns about how marriage impinges on women’s independence, remarking ‘it’s especially important for women to be individuals in this country right now with people blowing up abortion clinics and not allowing women to have any choices’ (Cherubin, 1985; see also Benesch, 1994), highlighting a cultural landscape in which women’s rights are under constant threat. More recently, she has criticized the Hollywood gender gap, saying, ‘I know so many talented women who don’t get the opportunities men have been afforded and films about women aren’t green lit often enough . . . It’s very hard to get movies made with a central female character, and when they are made, it’s often men who get to make them’ (Ramshaw, 2016). In 2016 when the furor over the ‘all-women’ Ghostbusters (2016) was playing out endlessly in the media, since the idea that a female cast (particularly one featuring a black woman) could head up a smart, funny, blockbuster proved unfathomable and downright objectionable to some, Meyers was happy to state her support for the cast and filmmakers, Instagramming the New  York Times headline ‘Our Ghostbusters Review: Girls Rule. Women Are Funny. Get Over It’, with a single advocatory ‘Yep!’ (@nmeyers, 12 July 2016). Meyers’s allegiance to feminist principles is on the record, but this allegiance is not what this book seeks to interrogate. Rather, Jane Gaines’s warning more than two decades ago that we must be mindful of ‘the tendency to automatically ascribe transgressiveness to films . . . when made by women’ is still apt here (Gaines, 1992). Indeed, in the same spirit, Irin Carmon, writing for Gawker women’s blog Jezebel on the release of It’s Complicated, and struck by the homogeneity of the film’s (older, white, uniformly groomed) women in a publicity shot and their similarity to Meyers herself, commented astutely that ‘just because Hollywood brings in a female director, writer or actress outside the usual model, doesn’t mean all that much has changed’ (2009b). Indeed one of the ongoing criticisms of Meyers and the privileged cocoons her films play out in is their relentless whiteness; Merkin refers to them as ‘almost pre-ethnic’ (2009), while Dylan Marron of the ‘Every Single Word’ video series, in which he gauges the amount of dialogue given to

9

INTRODUCTION

9

people of colour onscreen by editing down popular films to feature only their spoken words, has calculated that in Meyers’s films they get just 0.705 per cent of speaking time (Marron, 2016). Part of the challenge proffered by Meyers in a cultural climate which is becoming increasingly attuned to the need to conceptualize representation within intersectional frameworks, then, is the manner in which she contributes to Hollywood’s wholesale marginalization of people of colour while being subject to (other) processes of marginalization herself. Hence, while it is imperative to acknowledge how Meyers’s films evidently very much contribute to the industry’s evisceration of anything remotely like racial diversity and inclusivity, it is also vital to claim her as a filmmaker who commands an extremely skilful, critically conscious grasp of genre filmmaking which is insufficiently acknowledged or valued in critiques that frequently use the fact of her gender, and her thematic interest in gender, as a means of belittling her work. Further, I will argue she is a director whose work recurrently offers what I  will call (deliberately equivocally) feminist-minded moments, even while this work occupies a generic, aesthetic and institutional space which has long held a difficult relationship with feminism.

Something’s Gotta Give (2003) In fact, one might say Meyers’s intermittent call to feminism is part of her commercialism – a savvy marketable move (see also Glitre, 2011) – chiming with what A. O. Scott has described as her ‘thorough, if not always breathtakingly original, flair for the conventions of mainstream quasi-feminist comedy’ (Scott, 2003). For as long as shifting inflections of feminism remain debated by the cultural chatter of the day, they are vendible material for Hollywood, and for the romcom in particular given its thematic investment in the landscape of relationships. Indeed, while the notion of the ‘feminist-minded moment’ points to a sometimes ambivalent call to feminism, one that must potentially wrestle with other conservative and commercially minded pressures and interpretations, at other times there is nothing hesitant in it and Meyers very explicitly seeks to call out the gendered inequities of our times. In her next film, Something’s Gotta Give, for example, Meyers solidified her reputation as a director particularly attuned to the rarely contemplated desires of

10

10

NANCY MEYERS

older women, at the level of both representation and audience, a demograph that has been assiduously ignored and disavowed until very recently at least by the vast majority of mainstream Hollywood and indeed popular culture broadly. In her first film as sole writer/ director, Meyers constructs a witty, touching and thoughtful portrayal of a later-life romance, when celebrated playwright and 50something single divorcee Erica Barry (Diane Keaton) finds her ordered and often rather solitary world unexpectedly turned upside down on meeting irksome entrepreneur and eternal bachelor Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson), who at 63 is dating her daughter Marin (Amanda Peet). Despite his commitment issues and penchant for much younger women, despite her distaste for his reputation as ‘The Escape Artist’ and his hip-hop record label (‘just a tad misogynistic’), despite her being pursued also by handsome young Doctor Julian (Keanu Reeves), and following much sparky verbal pointsscoring which in time-honoured screwball fashion suggests the two are made for one another, they are drawn together through their mutual antagonism and eventually unite as a couple. As I  have argued elsewhere (Jermyn, 2012), the significance and sheer audaciousness of Meyers putting a 57-year-old woman star at the forefront of a Hollywood film, and making that character’s desires and subjectivity central to its rewards and pleasures, cannot be underestimated in an industry known for its systematic erasure of older women from our screens. At the same time, it might be said that a thoroughly conservative thread is still at work in Something’s Gotta Give. After all, despite all of Erica’s achievements, her undoubted success and independence signalled most overtly by her breathtakingly sumptuous holiday home in the Hamptons, what makes Erica’s life really complete is her renewed realization of heterosexual romance; and the vision of ageing femininity explored in this and Meyers’s other work – namely, normatively white, heterosexual, wealthy and slim and able-bodied – is a rarefied one indeed. But as audiences and critics know, Hollywood lends itself entirely to this kind of push and pull tension in its political possibilities, seemingly reactionary at one moment, but able to surprise us the next. Indeed, Janet Bergstrom argues in response to the work of Claire Johnston that apparent ‘gaps, fissures [and] ruptures’ (1979: 27) are integral to the operation of classical style and the pleasures it affords, that they cannot be extracted from the larger text to take on meaning of their own and that they can

1

INTRODUCTION

11

feature within a larger process of recuperation. What is interesting and significant in the reception of Meyers, though, is how much more tremendously vocal the critical voices pointing to conservative readings of her films have been to date, so that attention to any potential to locate other more inharmonious or even reformist commentary at work in her oeuvre has hardly occurred; and it is in part this potential that this book seeks to consider.

The Holiday (2006) Still, some would argue that following on from Something’s Gotta Give Meyers’s next project, The Holiday, was a rather more innocuous affair, pursuing and indulging some nostalgic pondering of cinematic romance, romantic comedy and Hollywood. This is not to say that Something’s Gotta Give didn’t do this too, given its very visible borrowing of the rhythms and frameworks of screwball comedy (see, for example, Marshall, 2009), but importantly it did so within the then uncommon context of later-life romance. By contrast The Holiday might be deemed a somewhat more conventional contribution to the genre, charting how two romantically challenged women, Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz), arrange an impulsive house swap one Xmas holiday in the hope that a change of scene will help heal the hurt left by their recent relationship failures. Needless to say, when each is transported to the other’s home across the Atlantic (Iris to glamorous LA and a mansion straight out of Architectural Digest, Amanda to idyllically provincial Surrey and a cottage that looks like it was lifted from the front of a chocolate box)6 they soon find their damaged sense of self restored, not least because they unexpectedly fall for two new romantic prospects, Miles (Jack Black) and Graham (Jude Law). What is more interesting about The Holiday than the mechanics of plot and character, however, is its place in Meyers’s directorial oeuvre as arguably her most overtly reflexive film. The conceit of relocating Iris – a downto-earth, congenial, ‘ordinary’ British girl – to LA, and wide-eyed into the heart of Hollywood, is key to this. It facilitated an opportunity for Meyers to pursue a leisurely and reflective examination of the joys of classical Hollywood and how the film industry and mainstream cinema have morphed (and not for the better) since ‘the golden age’, evoking a fond nostalgia for that time which is a

12

12

NANCY MEYERS

recurrent theme in her work. Amanda, it transpires, has a hugely successful business making movie trailers; Miles composes film soundtracks. Together, their occupations enable Meyers to ponder many of the conventions of contemporary Hollywood, even while here she is herself of course making a contemporary Hollywood film. Most tellingly, Iris finds herself befriending Amanda’s widowed older neighbour Arthur (played with beguiling wisdom by Eli Wallach), who leaves her swooning with tales both of his astonishing former career as a celebrated Hollywood screenwriter and his great love affair with his now deceased wife. In this way, the film allows Meyers to pursue what have become her familiar preoccupations with both the changing mores of romance and men’s and women’s relationships, and the art of classical Hollywood. And importantly, I argue, in the process Meyers gives romcom fans ‘permission’ to fully savour the pleasures of romantic comedy so often evoked elsewhere as tiresome or somehow shameful.

It’s Complicated (2009) It was to the complexities of the gendered inequities of contemporary dating and ageing that Meyers returned to again next in It’s Complicated. Starring Meryl Streep as successful Santa Barbara patisserie owner Jane Adler, the film once more charts the romantic machinations of an older divorced woman, who here, again like Erica in Something’s Gotta Give, unexpectedly finds herself involved with two men – charming lawyer Jake (Alec Baldwin) and shy architect Adam (Steve Martin) – after years of being single. The twist is that one of these suitors, Jake, is actually her ex-husband and father to their three grown-up children. It becomes apparent that the pair have ‘unfinished business’, and they enter into an affair, despite his having remarried to the much younger woman he left Jane for. This is a film which gives unusual contemplation, then, not only to the experiences of ageing, sex and romance as an older woman, but to the experience of divorce, and the processes of both separating from and yet being forever linked to someone you may have had children with, maintained mutual friends with, have shared a lifetime of memories with. As Meyers put it, ‘You know, a divorced person is a character that’s not in a lot of movies. Other than the angry woman at the door, dropping-off-the-kids woman, you know. Like

13

INTRODUCTION

13

the real life, what’s life like when you’re divorced?’ (BAFTA, 2015). Again, this reflection on the ‘real life’ of divorce was informed by her own experiences, here, of breaking up with Shyer, with whom she had two children and who subsequently remarried and went on to have another family with his new (younger) wife. Though not as commercially or critically successful as Something’s Gotta Give, the film was still a hit and in particular was central to Streep’s shifting, blossoming star persona in the period, as a woman star widely held up to be the epitome of ‘ageing well’ and ‘successful’ female ageing (Jermyn, 2014).

The Intern (2015) Given her thematic interests as outlined here so far, Meyers’s next project, The Intern, seemed at first glance to be something of a break with her oeuvre, being a film in which she made a very conscious decision, first, to move away from a romantic narrative of any kind and, second, to explore the experiences of ageing this time around more concertedly from the perspective of an older man. The Intern sees 70-year-old widower and retiree Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) being hired by successful fashion e-commerce businesswoman Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) to work as a senior (citizen) intern for her booming fashion start-up company, About the Fit. After her initial misgivings about the arrangement, Jules eventually comes to find Ben an indispensable and unexpected ally and mentor when she most needs it as her control of her business comes under threat, and the film traces the development of an intergenerational, cross-gendered relationship of a kind rarely imagined by Hollywood. In important respects, then, the film is still very much ‘a Nancy Meyers movie’: in its lavishly appointed interiors and settings; in its attentiveness to relationships and willingness to give screen time to contemplative dialogue that explores those relationships; its reflection on the shifting experiences of the life course; in how it delineates again what is perceived to be the indeterminacy of Meyers’s feminist politics; and in returning to the figure of the working woman, particularly exploring how work shapes one’s identity, sense of self and connections and commitments to others. Indeed, for these reasons it is not surprising that the film was received by many as a kind of twenty-first century update on, or return to the

14

14

NANCY MEYERS

questions posed by, Baby Boom back in 1987, asking the perpetual question as to whether women really can ‘have it all’. Moreover, it was, as with all Meyers’s movies, a film which she regarded as chiming very personally with where she was in her life at the time of its genesis, having explained, ‘It was an important story for me to tell for many reasons. I wanted to talk about ageing and work and how difficult it must be for someone who has worked for 40+ years and to have that taken away from them . . . I’m closer to Bob’s age than Annie’s and definitely not retired, but I can feel that coming and I do wonder what that will be like – so I got to explore my own fears, I suppose’ (Ramshaw, 2016). At a point in her career in which Meyers is evidently reflective about the life course and what her future may look like, this book is prompted by a number of desires and motivations, questions and provocations. It seeks, first, to formulate an (arguably, long since overdue) expansive account of Meyers’s career and oeuvre that is appropriately detailed and reflective. It is a study that recognizes her as one of contemporary mainstream cinema’s foremost woman practitioners, a writer/producer/director at the forefront of Hollywood who is significant not just for the films detailed above that she has worked on as director, but, as noted, for her multifaceted film career pre-existing this and dating back to 1980. Second, this book endeavours to trace, unpack and understand the nature of and reasons for the simultaneous critical vilification and neglect Meyers has been subject to, examining in particular how this approbation has frequently been gendered in nature. And finally, it seeks to embed Meyers in feminist film history, exploring the reasons for her relative absence from scholarship, a process that provides occasion to ask difficult but crucial questions about how to expand the territories that feminist film criticism has, for sound reason, been to date most focused on. One might say here that to truly embed Meyers in film scholarship and history she should be examined simply as a director – not ‘a woman director’ – since in some respects this approach actually serves to help keep her somehow at the margins. And there is certainly a kind of logic in this. Indeed, Meyers herself seems to have articulated both the value and the limitations of positioning her as a ‘woman director’. Thus, on the one hand, she has conceptualized herself as a woman filmmaker in saying after her breakup from Shyer, ‘Now I realize that I have a certain “female-ness” and a sensitivity of my own. It’s a unique

15

INTRODUCTION

15

thing to be a female director’ (Schweiger, 2000–01; 28). At the same time, she has also indicated a desire to be judged simply on a level playing field as a director; that is, squarely alongside her male peers, arguing that women filmmakers ‘[don’t] want to be our own niche . . . We’re filmmakers like everybody. How many years in a row are we going to talk about the fact that we make films and we are women? Enough already’ (Babb, 2010).7 And yet, as is being increasingly publically recognized and debated, Hollywood is very evidently not a level playing field. This book has been written in a period in which acknowledgement of the breath-taking and endemic sexism (and racism) at work in the film industry is being documented like never before. Studies, news articles and reports produced both by individuals and organizations, such as the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media (www.seejane.org), USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, Melissa Silverstein (womenandhollywood.com) and the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, have flourished in recent times to keep a steady stream of alarming statistics in the public eye. These include, for example, the Geena Davis Institute’s 2014 findings following research conducted by USC Annenberg that, ‘Out of a total of 1,452 film-makers with an identifiable gender . . . [females] comprised 7 per cent of directors, 19.7 per cent of writers, and 22.7 per cent of producers’ (Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, 2014). Indeed, in 2015 burgeoning evidence of this gender discrimination against women practitioners in film and TV finally led the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to begin an investigation, writing to a number of women directors and asking ‘to speak with them so that “we may learn more about the gender-related issues” they are facing in entertainment’ (cited in Johnson, 2015). Meyers’s career becomes all the more remarkable with such heightened awareness of the contexts and conditions she has operated in and which she has managed, ostensibly and to some considerable degree at least, to overcome. With all this in mind, writing as a feminist media scholar it would arguably be remiss of me not to situate her solidly within this landscape, for example, by examining how her gender has informed the reception of her films, as well as how questions of feminism and gendered inequality have quite evidently appeared as themes in her work.

16

16

NANCY MEYERS

This volume thus constitutes the first published full book-length study of the most commercially successful woman filmmaker of all time (Wiggers, 2010). In 2009 Meyers was described in the New York Times as ‘a singular figure in Hollywood – [she] may, in fact, be the most powerful female writer-director-producer currently working’ (Merkin, 2009), a suggestion which has held even more weight since the death of Nora Ephron in 2012. Yet in the course of writing this book, I have more than once presented work on her to an assembled body of film students and academics who have collectively admitted to having no idea who ‘Nancy Meyers’ is. On one occasion, I was even asked by a prominent scholar whether, since no one had yet written on Meyers extensively, wasn’t it the case that such a project had shown itself to be uncalled for – and by extension, no doubt, therefore redundant and unnecessary? This is surely a position that taken to its logical endpoint suggests, absurdly, that if critical work has not yet been undertaken on any topic, it is by default demonstrably not worth doing – and a question to which this book answers a simple and resounding: no.

Being ‘Nancy Meyers’ So what might one learn about Nancy Meyers from the stories and features and interviews with her that have circulated in the public domain, before examining her films in more detail; and how might this kind of ‘knowledge’ inform how one understands her? As a director who certainly crops up in the press but has not been profiled terribly extensively by popular media reports or in other chronicles of Hollywood, Meyers’s biography has generally only been traced in broad, familiar contours. This coverage tends to outline an upper middle-class woman who grew up in Philadelphia, moved to LA, got into scriptwriting and fell in love with her writing partner who soon enough started directing their co-written scripts, before she had two children with him, then married and divorced him, and went on to become a successful director in her own right making a series of hit romcoms. Bringing various forms of evidence to bear together in what follows here, including interviews, reviews, news stories and artefacts such as studio press releases, I want both to flesh out Meyers’s ‘back-story’ and to interrogate the manner in which her biography has typically been constructed. The writing

17

INTRODUCTION

17

of such a history is inevitably both perilous to reconstruct, given the subjectivity of these sources, and a compelling prospect for the curious scholar engaged in closely examining the body of work produced by a single director. The anecdotes, testimonies and declarations collected here are assembled as material that may potentially offer tentative ‘insights’ into reading Meyers, and they feed, albeit cautiously, into how I subsequently analyse aspects of her work, so that this (evidently mediated) information is used to partly inform how one might understand her unique directorial eye. I do not intend this book as a traditional auteur study, however; rather, it situates Meyers within a range of critical, industrial and cultural perspectives and explores the difficulties auteurism has enduringly posed, in particular for women filmmakers. While believing it apt to trace Meyers’s biography here, it is important first to remember some of the shortcomings of the auteur impulse. As Yvonne Tasker notes, ‘The limitations of ideas of cinematic authorship are by now familiar: the overly romantic figure of the individual filmmaker in a medium which is not only typically complex and collaborative, but corporate in nature; the reductive reading of films as autobiography; the repression of complexity in the desire to identify an overriding stylistic or thematic unity’ (2002: 3). It is necessary, then, to not think only about Meyers as merely making ‘personal’ films, though she recurrently speaks of her work as being shaped by her own experiences. Rather, they must be situated too as commercial enterprises, produced at particular times in particular cultural contexts according to a particular aesthetic and industrial model. At the same time, authorship remains a cornerstone of film culture. Hence this book also examines how Meyers has on the whole been inequitably denied proper recognition as an accomplished auteur (or ‘auteuse’ to use the term preferred by some), or has been granted the title begrudgingly with caveats, despite having very much met the (not unproblematic) basic auteurist criteria of maintaining a consistency of style and theme across her body of work and a ‘personal’ vision. Furthermore, this resistance to bestowing such acknowledgment on Meyers is indicative of an industry and scholarly discipline still frequently reluctant to admit women filmmakers, and particularly populist women filmmakers, into ‘the canon’. I use this term advisedly here, recognizing how such an approach is arguably both enduringly widespread and inherently reductive in nature. ‘The canon’

18

18

NANCY MEYERS

has of course long been a particularly problematic concept for feminist criticism across all kinds of disciplinary boundaries, given the relentless manner in which it has privileged (overwhelmingly white) male histories and male subjects and indeed been chiefly constructed by men. One might ask here, then, whether the concept of a canon in itself is inescapably ‘male’ in its very nature, ordering our understanding of the world through a series of ‘greats’, drawing on a traditionally male-ordered approach to history that honours individuals (both individual texts and people) and thus what is enduringly culturally positioned as a masculine sense of competition and glory, rather than looking for and valuing collaborations and interconnectedness. Alternatively, one might say such a critique endorses a highly problematic essentialism – for aren’t there plenty of women who thrive on competition, who relish personal recognition and its attendant laurels, and who would resist being understood as somehow mimicking ‘male’ behaviours for doing so? Furthermore, quite outside of this anti-essentialist caution, as noted above, it has long been posited that an approach which more readily and pragmatically recognizes and respects the collaborative nature of filmmaking constitutes a far more apt conception of the art form than has been offered by traditional, romantic auteurism. In essence, the conundrum here pivots around whether feminist film criticism should seek to demand that women practitioners be inserted into existing maledominated and largely male-written canons so that these are thus reconfigured as a result; should seek to produce a woman’s canon of its own making; or should refuse the concept of ‘the canon’ and its inescapably patriarchal history entirely. Whether Film Studies is to develop a women-only canon, or revise and extend the ones it has cultivated till now, or pursue alternative approaches, there needs to be an assessment of the manner and extent to which Meyers has been recognized and situated in the popular and academic profiles of her to date. The lengthiest feature article on Meyers yet undertaken remains that written by Daphne Merkin in 2009 when there was something of a surge of interest in the director due to publicity for the Christmas Day release of It’s Complicated. Its star, Meryl Streep, was undergoing a particularly intriguing renaissance at this time, as her resoundingly lengthy and critically successful career had also of late brought in some unprecedented blockbuster receipts following the mammoth success of Mamma Mia! (2008) and

19

INTRODUCTION

19

Julie and Julia (2009). As noted, there was considerable popular curiosity around It’s Complicated, then, for constituting a vehicle for Streep, as a revered and ageing woman star now in the midst of a career resurgence, here playing a romcom heroine, just as she turned 60 in real life (see Bennetts, 2010; Jermyn, 2014). Merkin’s informative piece provides many interesting snippets of personal information about Meyers in the course of tracing her career. To begin, Merkin finds that ‘The rise and rise of Nancy Meyers is a story with few hitches  – a surprisingly organic tale propelled by talent, a bit of luck and a self-described ‘worker bee’ ethic’ (2009). Were this where the profile ended it would be a simplistic fairy tale story indeed. But instead, as she goes on, Merkin manages also to reflect thoughtfully at times on the institutional barriers to women’s progress behind the camera in Hollywood, while recognizing the risk implicit in  – and the cultural magnitude, in fact – of Meyers choosing latterly to make films at least to some degree about, and for, older women. What narrative detail can we glean from this and other existing accounts of Meyers’s story, then? As interviewers generally tell it, Meyers was born, as noted, in Philadelphia in 1949 into a ‘doting’ upper middle-class Jewish family and a household that ‘was warm and comfortable’, one of two daughters born to a business executive father, the voting machine manufacturer Irving Meyers (Rochlin, 2000), and stay-home mother Patricia  – ‘a good cook’ and a community volunteer who ‘enjoyed dabbling in interior decoration’ (Merkin, 2009). Indeed, in a keynote for the annual Westweek design market held in LA in 2013, Meyers told designer Bradley Bayou how her mother’s energy for reimagining their home decor as she was growing up ‘stuck with me’. She explains in conversation that her mother was first and foremost a homemaker and ‘didn’t really take on a job until much, much later in life’ when she started to work in interior decor. Recalling childhood trips to antique fairs, and visitors to their home being asked to help rearrange furniture, Meyers reflects that her mother ‘was an unofficial decorator for the first 45  years of her life and then she made it official which was great . . . it was influential, I  can’t deny it was influential’ (Bayou, 2013) – an insight which suggests that the seeds of Meyers’s flair and love for design, and attention to meticulous mise-en-scene so crucial to her style, were sown early, and on the home front.

20

20

NANCY MEYERS

Nancy goes to Hollywood Following a degree in journalism at American University in Washington, DC, and a stint working in public television in Philadelphia (Merkin, 2009), in 1972 Meyers decided to quit her home city and relocated to Los Angeles to live with her sister. As she tells it, she ‘didn’t know a soul in showbiz’, but a kindly receptionist at CBS took pity on her when she turned up at their building with her résumé, sending her straight up to the third floor where she was hired to work for successful game show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman on The Price is Right. Her job was to plan the prize packages:  ‘I did a lot of movie themes, if you ever saw the show back in the early 70s, you know: “It’s a trip to Casablanca!” ’ (Bayou, 2013). However, though the price may have been right at CBS, soon enough Meyers felt she was ‘not in the right place’: So I  started taking classes at night . . . people would come and speak . . . filmmakers would come . . . and I just said, ‘This is it. This is what I’m going to do’. I just redirected things and I started writing. So the journalism made its way into screenplays. But, like, my dream would have been to write for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Movies seemed too big. (Bayou, 2013) It is interesting that the ‘dream’ Meyers invokes at this point in her career is to write for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Running on CBS from 1970 to 1977, the series is a pivotal one in the history of feminist media studies. Produced by MTM Enterprises, Tyler Moore’s own production company, the long-running sitcom proved enormously popular while tapping into the zeitgeist of the secondwave, charting the ups and downs of Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore), a single young woman who moves to Minneapolis after her relationship turns sour and builds a life for herself instead as an associate producer at a local TV newsroom. Such stories of single, independent women ‘making it in the city’ constitute their own kind of ‘genre’ with a long history both within and beyond television, and The MTM Show is enduringly remembered as one of the preeminent cultural texts to explore this narrative at this crucial historical moment, given the rise of the women’s movement at this time (see Jermyn, 2009: 42–4). It is not hard to imagine how this series would have spoken to Meyers, similarly newly arrived in a city far

21

INTRODUCTION

21

from home and working in the male-dominated world of television; as she has put it, ‘I, along with every other young woman my age, was just obsessed with [it]’ (Lennon, 2009). But given Meyers’s own later career, one can’t help but speculate that Mary Tyler Moore’s real-life career trajectory off-camera might have been an inspiration too for Meyers as she was starting out. Here was a woman building unusual professional autonomy in the entertainment industry, having established a production company to produce The MTM Show with her then husband. Interestingly too, in this remark, Meyers is implicitly noting the particular difficulties facing women trying to break into the film industry, as she admits she thought Hollywood was beyond her grasp; ‘movies seemed too big,’ she says (Bayou, 2013, my emphasis. See also Larocca, 2015: 38). The reference to Tyler Moore is pertinent too, in that it was through her contacts at Goodson-Todman Productions that Meyers was seemingly eventually able to get a script she had written on spec to Betty White, who fortuitously was both the wife of game show presenter Alan Ludden, host of the Goodson-Todman show Password, and one of the stars of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.8 Through this connection it appears Meyers eventually got a meeting at The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and though the story editor and team there didn’t offer her a job, they did tell her they had liked her script. Here one can see an early glimmer of the tenacity and conviction one imagines Meyers must hold given her outstanding career (as she has said of herself, ‘If a door closed I just found another door’ (Larocca, 2015:  34)). Having managed to connect with The Mary Tyler Moore Show creatives and feeling encouraged by them, as she tells it, ‘Just the fact that they met with me, I quit my job’ (Bayou, 2013). There next followed a period in Meyers’s life that reads like a plotline from a chick flick, sounding more like the back story to Annie’s (Kristen Wiig) history in Bridesmaids (2011), or going back further still, the ‘woman’s picture’ Mildred Pierce (1945), than the bona fide CV of one of Hollywood’s most commercially successful filmmakers. Meyers tells how in order to support herself after quitting The Price Is Right, ‘I baked cheesecakes. My aunt’s recipe for cheesecakes . . . and sold them during the day and wrote at night’ (Bayou, 2013). Indeed, doubtless seeing the rather beguiling symmetry here between Meyers’s own history and the kind of narrative that has become a regular feature among romcom and chick flick heroines (cf.

2

22

NANCY MEYERS

‘plucky-gal-with-vision-and-entrepreneurial-spirit-makes-a-go-ofown-business’), in 2015 The Hollywood Reporter ran a whole feature on Meyers’s entertaining cheesecake anecdote. An article leading up to the release of The Intern (which might easily be described, in fact, as a film about a plucky gal with vision and entrepreneurial spirit who makes a go of her own business) tells how when Meyers was starting out in Hollywood: The top female director baked and sold cheesecakes using ‘an old family recipe’ to making [sic] a living in the mid-1970s while still a struggling screenwriter . . . Meyers tells THR: ‘Patrick Terrail at Ma Maison was my first and best customer . . . I lived in a small apartment . . . I  needed more ovens, so I  used the ovens of my neighbors, had keys to all of their apartments and helped pay their gas bills . . . I called myself The Pacific Cheesecake Company . . . [Meryl Streep] in It’s Complicated owned a bakery . . . I kind of always imagined her starting much like I did’ (Gardner, 2015). In the light of this story, indeed, Jane Adler’s idyllically conjured Santa Barbara patisserie business takes on a fresh and surprising kind of newly plausible inflection.9 It also gives an extra kind of insight too into why the sociality of food and eating, the pleasures of cooking and baking, and the meaningful import that kitchen and culinary spaces and skills can hold might have come to feature so recurrently in Meyers’s films. Indeed, interestingly, on 24 March 2016 Meyers Instagrammed a Japanese poster for It’s Complicated where the key image used was Jane serving coffee from behind her counter, noting that the film was released in Japan as ‘My Lovely Bakery’ (she has also told how she took a year off between The Holiday and It’s Complicated, taking time out in Paris where ‘she admits with a grin’ she spent ‘a lot of time in Parisian bakeries’ (Clines, 2009)). And in 2002, more than two decades after she started the Pacific Cheesecake Company, making an entrepreneurial move for independence, akin to Tyler Moore, Meyers would go on to found her own production company, Waverly Films. Today, she is known to take immense pride in the degree of control she insists on and enacts over all aspects of her films. In a 2009 interview with the DGA Quarterly (Directors Guild of America), for example, the interviewer notes variously the degree of detail in her storyboards ‘down to the lines of dialogue spoken in each frame’;

23

INTRODUCTION

23

how she eschews improvisation, instead feeling compelled to ‘stick to what I’ve written’; how she keeps meticulous image books collated for every character and set; and how she is so engrossed in getting casting right that ‘it would be embarrassing for me to tell you how many people I see, even if the person has one speech, or one line or moment’ (Dawes, 2009). This control includes, unusually, the autonomy of final cut. As she put it simply in her interview to Merkin, ‘My movies are not messed with by the studios’ (2009) (see also BAFTA, 2015). Both Merkin (2009) and Wiggers (2010:  68)  point to the significance of the name of Meyers’s production company – Waverly Films – named after the theatre in Drexal Hill, Pennsylvania, where she went to the cinema in her childhood, a tribute which speaks of Meyers’s cinephilia. Indeed, Wiggers places her alongside the acclaimed auteur-cinephile-directors celebrated among her generation of Hollywood filmmakers, who regularly and liberally sprinkle interviews and feature articles with references to film history, when he notes that ‘Meyers spent much of her childhood watching movies there. Like Scorsese, Spielberg, Tarantino and countless other directors, she studied the movies she saw in her youth and inevitably desired to make her own’ (ibid.). But in fact some of Meyers’s professed accounts of her career path do not suggest that a desire to direct was always what was propelling her, or that the director’s chair was always the ultimate prize she had in mind, and that writing remains her primary driver. ‘Directing is really a way of protecting the writing,’ she has said. ‘The reason I direct movies is so that what I’ve written can get on the screen. I don’t feel driven to direct; I feel driven to write’ (in Linden, 2004a; see also Topel, 2006: 269). Asked by The Hollywood Reporter in 2007 whether she thinks of herself as a director or writer, her one-word answer without caveats was, ‘Writer’ (Galloway, 2007); asked in 2015, ‘Are you still at heart a writer?’, she replied, ‘That’s what my passport says’ (BAFTA, 2015). Indeed, she has actually explicitly distinguished herself from the male peers alongside whom Wiggers contextualizes her by remarking, ‘I wasn’t like George Lucas or Spielberg, making home movies as a teenager’ (Lennon, 2009). Furthermore, through most of the 1980s and 1990s as a working mother of two whose partner was a director, she didn’t believe the profession to be compatible with the other responsibilities and demands she was navigating; (‘[We] had young children so I hadn’t really thought about

24

24

NANCY MEYERS

directing, because I knew from living with a director what it took’ (Dawes, 2009; see also Topel, 2006: 268; Lewis, 2009–10, 125)). Speaking with the same candour some years after her split from Shyer, she admitted, ‘I’d have probably gone into directing earlier if it wasn’t for having children’ (Lawrence, 2006). But Wiggers’s account quite rightly notes how her love for classical Hollywood relationship comedies, and in particular the work of directors like Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, is very much evident in her work and the inspirations she has widely acknowledged. Her films, as we shall see, are littered with intertextual references to the classical movies and the auteurs of this ‘golden age’, a history embraced by Meyers and felt as a very consciously intended influence in her oeuvre. What all the names above have in common other than being the directors of classical Hollywood’s most celebrated screwball and relationship comedies and other romcom antecedents, of course, is that they belong to men. Hence, another issue considered by this book is what happens when a contemporary woman filmmaker places herself within this esteemed history as a kind of successor to these revered male ‘cinematic greats’ and within the traditions they shaped of smart, garrulous, sparkling, relationship comedies, and how her reputation has evolved rather differently as a woman director of romcoms. Nostalgia for ‘the golden age’ in Meyers’s work was evident long before she began directing, since it was an affection that she shared with Shyer and which is thus very evident in their collaborations too. In the next chapter I examine the importance of their partnership for understanding and contextualizing Meyers, both in terms of the films they made together and in terms of how they were constructed within the revered Hollywood tradition of ‘the writing couple’. The two began working together in the late 1970s when Meyers was a story editor in the film division at Motown (Merkin, 2009) and Shyer was already an established screenwriter. By this point he had written for a number of TV series, including a period as head writer and associate producer on the hit show The Odd Couple (see United Artists, 1987), and perhaps most notably had been a co-writer on the successful Burt Reynolds vehicle Smokey and The Bandit (1977). Furthermore, he had previously worked with filmmaker Howard Zieff, who would later direct Private Benjamin, as a co-writer on House Calls (1978). Meanwhile, Meyers had spent a period working for producer Ray Stark when the couple were introduced by

25

INTRODUCTION

25

mutual friend Harvey Miller, who would go on to write Private Benjamin with them (see Cherubin, 1985: B-4; Martinez, 1987: 6), and, after a period as friends, eventually she and Shyer began dating. As noted above, as co-writers and producers the two delivered a series of high-profile, often extremely successful movies through the 1980s and 1990s with Shyer directing, before they switched roles and then split up just as Meyers directed The Parent Trap. To date, this early period of Meyers’s career has received only fleeting acknowledgement and, significantly, no one has yet examined the way in which Meyers was constructed as a public figure in this time in media coverage and publicity. I  will argue that, crucially, as long as she was one half of the male/director/writer/producer + female/writer/producer Shyer-Meyers couple, while also the wife (symbolically or in actuality) in their domestic relationship too, she was apprehensible and relatable. In this period of her career she could be approvingly understood and situated within established discourses about ‘couples who write about couples’ (Cherubin, 1985:  B1), about romantic heterosexual coupledom and about directing as a male industry. When her marriage broke up, when she ‘went it alone’ professionally and when she took up the mantle of director – furthermore, when her career went on to vastly surpass that of her former partner  – she became a rather more awkward entity to deal with. And it is the subsequent construction of Meyers that evolved and which has come to predominate – of an overbearing, privileged, perhaps proficient but all too predictable ‘rom-com queen’ – that this book seeks to examine and provide a rather more considered counterpoint to at last.

Chapters in this book The rest of this book is divided into four key chapters. In Chapter 1, as noted, I explore the early part of Meyers’s career and in particular her collaborative relationship with Charles Shyer, most especially examining Private Benjamin and Baby Boom and identifying the key thematic interests and motifs evident in her work as a writerproducer that would remain evident in her directorial career too. In Chapter  2 I  move on to examine how on splitting from Shyer she developed a hugely commercially successful career as a writer/ producer/director in her own right but was critically pigeonholed in

26

26

NANCY MEYERS

a manner summed up by the moniker of ‘The Rom-com Queen’, a title which I unpack to reveal the intricate relationship that exists between gender, genre and cultural value, in particular looking at What Women Want and The Holiday. Chapter  3 asks whether Meyers can perhaps best be understood as ‘the wrong kind of woman filmmaker’ in that her body of decidedly populist work has held relatively little interest for feminist film studies, while at the same time being recurrently disparaged by critics. In essence, she can be understood as crystallizing many of the challenges that face women directors working (or rather trying to work) in mainstream Hollywood: likely to be discussed in relation to ‘chick flicks’, struggling to meet the criteria of auteur cinema or to gain traction in feminist film studies, and thus liable to end up ‘written out’ of film history. Hence this chapter charts how she warrants recognition by both and particularly how, at either end of her career, The Parent Trap and The Intern can be seen to illustrate the continuity of Meyers’s authorial signature and ‘personal vision’. Chapter  4 examines the theme that has been recurrently spoken of in the latter part of Meyers’s career as her signature interest, namely, the lives of older women, whom she has sought to represent and address in the kind of textured fashion that mainstream cinema has rarely sought to do. I  suggest that far from being merely lightweight romantic froth, Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated are films which must be recognized as radical in their insistence that Hollywood give a voice to the perspectives and experiences of older women, having ignored and erased them for generations.

Notes 1 Equally, though six films might not be considered ‘a lot’ per se, it could be considered a significant figure in terms of the restricted numbers of films through history that women directors have been able to make. 2 Private Benjamin was the first script by Meyers to make it to production and the second script she had ever written, as she recalls having only previously ventured one on her own, which she saw as ‘sort of like a practice script’ (Larocca, 2015: 35). 3 In both instances Meyers and Shyer shared the writing credits here with Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the original classical Hollywood screenwriters of the Father of the Bride films.

27

INTRODUCTION

27

4 Given the greater and more speculative difficulty of identifying the Shyer-Meyers’s contribution to these larger writing teams and the films that emerged from them, this book doesn’t examine Protocol, Jumpin’ Jack Flash or Once Upon a Crime. Of Once Upon a Crime, for example, Meyers has commented that it was ‘a movie we did a rewrite on. I never saw the movie. It was a quick rewrite job. I guess we did enough work to get credit, but it was not a film that I’m familiar with’ (Topel, 2006: 270). In addition, though the next chapter does consider some of the films produced by the Shyer-Meyers partnership, the book does not consider the TV series that emerged from Private Benjamin or Baby Boom. The pair did not approve of how the TV series of Private Benjamin developed the concept (Martinez, 1987), and while the duo did write for both series, Meyers has said that the experience was not a positive one for her: ‘I didn’t really like TV . . . for me it wasn’t a good fit’ (BAFTA, 2015). Indeed, one can well imagine that the high production turnover rate of TV was anathema to Meyers’s preferred fastidious and measured working practices. 5 In 2011 there was a Chinese remake of the film released (Wo zhi nv ren zin), directed by Daming Chen and starring Andy Lau and Li Gong (imdb.com). 6 For a guide to the locations and sets used in The Holiday, including the raising of the shell of Iris’s home, Rosehill Cottage, at Shere in Surrey for exterior shots, see the website locationshub.com (2013) and the film’s DVD extras. 7 In this respect, here Meyers echoes the comments made by another of the (few) major women directors of her generation with a career of comparable longevity, namely, Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow has frequently distanced herself from discussions of her gender in her work, commenting, ‘I don’t mean to gloss over it, but there’s nothing more counter-productive than the notion of gender-specific filmmaking’ (see Jermyn, 2003: 134–5). However, unlike Bigelow, Meyers has also been vocal about the fact that ‘there is most certainly a gender issue in Hollywood’ (Larocca, 2015: 40), having noted not only that the stats for the number of women directors working in Hollywood are ‘appalling’, but also that women directors are less likely to be given a second chance after a box office flop and less likely to be handed a big budget (ibid.). 8 Here again, a trawl through interviews with and profiles about Meyers over the years unearths some slightly conflicting versions of events, since in the New York Times’ feature on her Merkin relates that Meyers managed to get a script to Allan Burns on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, ‘who read it and invited her to sit in for a week’ (Merkin, 2009).

28

28

NANCY MEYERS

9 Underlining the difficulty of tracing personal histories and documenting anecdote in this way, there appears to be some kind of misremembering or reporting of this period (and perhaps some evidence of its recyclable charm) in a 2010 Guardian article; a short profile of Meyers cites her as saying, ‘Like most struggling writers trying to get their scripts commissioned, I had to do something odd to pay the rent. So, aged, 21, I started up my own small cheesecake company in Philadelphia’ (Ferrier and Briffa, 2010). In fact, not only is the cheesecake business located in LA in other reports, Meyers has recalled elsewhere that she didn’t start writing scripts till later in her 20s, again having moved to LA.

29

1 Key Collaborative Relationships Meet the Shmeyers: Meyers as Writer-Producer and the ‘Writing Couple’ Leitmotif

As we saw in the Introduction, throughout the 1980s and 1990s Nancy Meyers was part of a hugely successful filmmaking team with her long-term collaborator, and romantic partner, Charles Shyer. Despite their prominence as filmmakers in this era, till now, no scholarship has explored their partnership. Yet the kind of labour I undertake here, tracing and unravelling how this foremost woman practitioner was ‘packaged’ and constructed in particular, digestible ways for/by the industry within this partnership, is crucial to the feminist project of understanding and addressing the manifold processes that work to keep women filmmakers pigeonholed and marginalized. In seeking to interrogate this background to Meyers’s career as a director, this chapter makes another significant and original contribution to placing Meyers within a feminist film history. To undertake this work, in what follows, I draw predominantly on the archival press and publicity cuttings held at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in LA, which extend to a variety of (pre-internet) local LA newspapers, press releases and the trade and industry press, as well as women’s

30

30

NANCY MEYERS

magazines, drawn from the 1980s to the 1990s.1 To understand what ‘Nancy Meyers’ means, and to understand how gendered discourses inform how men and women directors are disseminated differently, it is clearly not sufficient to only analyse her oeuvre. Instead, in keeping with previous work I have undertaken on Kathryn Bigelow (Jermyn, 2003), and notwithstanding the extent to which Meyers is still not generally popularly recognized, one must ask how she has been fashioned, conveyed and sold as a particular kind of (female filmmaker) figure in the public domain. These sources thus provide an invaluable opportunity and form rich intertextual evidence with which to reconstruct how Meyers’s and Shyer’s partnership was shaped and circulated in this period, extending and informing our understanding of how her career and status in Hollywood evolved. This chapter will underline how an exploration of the pair’s work and relationship (or rather representations of their relationship) is evidently crucial to understanding and contextualizing Meyers’s career trajectory, and not solely because of the length, breadth and entwinedness of their shared professional lives over two decades. Beyond this, as a woman breaking into the business at the start of her career, the fact that Meyers initially constituted one-half of a male-female duo would have helped open doors to her in the late 1970s, and indeed beyond, that would likely have otherwise proven infinitely harder to wedge ajar alone. Meyers has indicated her own sense that working with a male partner made her a more palatable prospect for the industry, having remarked, ‘I know the fact that there was a man in the room with me all those years made the medicine go down’ (Merkin, 2009; see also Topel, 2006: 272). Furthermore, Shyer importantly came with industry contacts and a pedigree that Meyers did not have. In addition to his own writing and directing experience (a production background which, as he put it, ‘was one of the main reasons they let us produce Private Benjamin’ (cited in Blair, 1995:  63)), his father, director Melville Shyer, was one of the founders of the Directors Guild of America (Martinez, 1987: 6), who had worked as the First AD on renowned films including Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street (1945) and Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946). But it is important to clarify here that recognizing how Shyer may have helped Meyers’s early career get started in this manner is in no way at all to suggest that he somehow discovered or mentored a talent that was only nascent before they met, or that her entry into the industry was thus not entirely

31

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

31

deserved because it was aided by some kind of nepotism. Rather, it is to acknowledge the extent of the endemic sexism rampant in the industry at this time (which endures to this day)  – and by extension, to reflect on how much equally promising female talent was (and continues to be) shut down by a relentlessly male-dominated business. On the one hand, Meyers has said, ‘In terms of writing, I didn’t feel any prejudice’ (Topel, 2006: 272). Yet in a shocking recollection she has also described the outrageous conditions that were attached to her contract as a writer-producer on Private Benjamin, recounting, ‘This is how backwards the movie business was then. It was in my contract that I could never be on the set alone as the only producer. My male partner had to be there’ (Bayou, 2013). Rochlin describes the Meyers-Shyer partnership in a piece for the New York Times publicizing the release of What Women Want; ‘For years they were sold as the film industry’s united front, the happy couple who made well-cast, wholesome movies that featured a lot of laughs, some poignant interludes and their daughters [in] cameo roles’ (2000). Such was their early success that by the time of Baby Boom in 1987, the second of their co-written enterprises as a duo directed by Shyer, they had it stipulated in their contracts that no rewrites by anyone but themselves were permitted on their scripts (Rosenfeld, 1987; Galbraith, 1988). To more fully grasp Meyers’s history and oeuvre, then, it is crucial to trace her partnership with Shyer and how this shaped her entry into the business. Arguably, it would be unfeasible to attempt to identify if and where one might distinguish and extract Meyers’s particular authorial voice in this earliest (team)work, as a co-producer and co-writer working alongside the man who was also her domestic partner (later father to their two daughters, and husband). At the same time, unquestionably, themes and motifs emerge in these collaborations that remain cornerstones of Meyers’s later directorial work, including her interest and active participation in design from the start. She has told how, for example, she used some of her own furnishings and clothes on Irreconcilable Differences, in part because of the low budget (Bayou, 2013); elsewhere in a 1987 interview in which the pair discuss how they share labour and responsibilities, Shyer observes, ‘Nancy spends a lot of time with the designers,’ and Meyers chips in, ‘I am very concerned with that aspect of the film’ (Martinez, 1987: 6). Yet it is ultimately impossible, of course, to unravel the intricacies at work in a long-term collaborative relationship of the

32

32

NANCY MEYERS

kind shared by Meyers and Shyer – a relationship so close in this instance that they were collectively known in the industry as ‘the Shmeyers’ (or ‘the Shymers’ in some accounts) (see for example, Bernard, 1995; Fink, 1998; Rochlin, 2000; Meyers, 2010).

Meyers and film as collaboration Indeed, this last point underlines one of the key criticisms long levied against the authorship approach in Film Studies, as already alluded to in the Introduction: how does one disentangle the multiple influences at work in a collaborative art? How does one relegate or elevate the roles of writer, director and producer – or other creative roles – in this process? Indeed, as noted, we have seen that Meyers’s particular eye for a kind of seemingly (and misleadingly) effortlessly tasteful and elegant interior design has been identified as key to the existence of a ‘Meyers style’; that she has spoken about how her interior decorator mother influenced her formative interests in this respect (Merkin, 2009); and she has observed how as a writer and producer long before becoming a director, she sought from the outset of her career to play an active part in design. For example, she recalls having ‘a bit of a war’ with the set decorators on Private Benjamin about whether Judy’s childhood bedroom would have contained high school photos of her in the hockey team (Meyers maintained Judy would not have played hockey and thus this detail was erroneous to her character. They were removed) (Bayou, 2013). But even here, in the realm of interior design and mise-en-scène, the arena in which Meyers is most readily credited with a filmic ‘signature’, it is worth noting, for example, that she has consulted with interior designer James Radin in three of her films  – Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated – so that even this distinctive feature of her work is one in which one can chart the importance of collaboration. Indeed, Radin’s website portfolio at www.jamesradin.com very much speaks to the ‘Meyers aesthetic’, and interestingly, off-screen, Radin also ‘did’ Meyers’s own home (Lennon, 2009; Abramovitch, 2012). Further, Meyers happily admits to the importance of her regular, long-term collaborators to her oeuvre and her working practices, telling The Hollywood Reporter that while the quality she wishes she had as a director is ‘a looseness, sort of an ease’, what helps her in the absence of this is

3

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

33

that ‘I have worked in collaboration. It is so great to have somebody to turn to that you trust. To just know there is another person that is as involved as you are’ (Galloway, 2007). Outside of Shyer, then, this list of recurrent collaborators (working with her across at least three or more films) extends among others to Suzanne Farwell, who has moved over the years from being Meyers’s assistant on The Parent Trap to a producer on The Intern, by way of being president of Waverly Films (Meyers’s production company at Columbia Pictures) from 2001 to 2004 and co- or executive-producer of Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated; Bruce A. Block (who worked as an associate or co-producer on numerous of the Shmeyers’s films and the Baby Boom TV series, then subsequently as co-producer on The Parent Trap and What Women Want, and producer on Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday, as well as a second unit director on numerous of these); Dean Cundey (director of photography for The Parent Trap, What Women Want and The Holiday), who Meyers especially credits for helping her through the challenging split-screen process on The Parent Trap (‘[He’d] done a lot of effects films, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Jurassic Park. He was the absolutely right guy for me and really helped me’ (Dawes, 2009)); Jon Hutman (production designer for What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday, It’s Complicated); K.  C. Colwell (First AD on What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated, as well as earlier Shmeyers’s movies); Hans Zimmer (music for Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated) and Joe Hutshing (editor The Holiday; Something’s Gotta Give; It’s Complicated) (all credits from imdb).2 Her relationship with four-time Best Film Editing Academy Award nominee and double-Oscar winning Hutshing is evidently hugely valued by Meyers, for example. She has said of him, ‘I love working with Joe. We have a really safe relationship in the cutting room. We’re allowed to try things and really have fun’ (Dawes, 2009). Explaining their practices in more detail at the Writers Guild Foundation, she describes their close and trusting collaborative partnership in the edit suite and throughout production, saying, He is a fabulous film editor that I love and I love being locked in a room with him all day, I really do . . . He’s a great collaborator and he lets me be me. If I want to see every inch of everything I shot

34

34

NANCY MEYERS

and it takes us two days to look at all the footage, he never says, ‘Do we really have to watch all the takes of every . . . ?’ . . . And I look at everything, I really do . . . which is why when I’m doing a lot of takes and the actors are rolling their eyes at me I say, ‘You know, I look at all this stuff . . . ’ And I make an insane amount of notes, every night I email him after shooting, which is a process he and I have come to that really works . . . he doesn’t see dailies with me . . . we don’t talk that much in the day . . . so I send him notes every night . . . and it’s always great to hear what he thinks because he’s not there in the moment, he’s separate from it like the audience. If he says ‘It didn’t really work for me’, that’s a great thing for me to hear. (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010) Meyers’s account here also points to the professed fastidiousness of her working practices  – how she writes ‘an insane amount of notes’ every night after shooting, how she re-watches every take in the edit suite with Hutshing. Still, her history with Shyer remains foremost among her collaborative relationships. Early interviews with Meyers and Shyer recurrently point to how closely enmeshed the couple’s practices as co-writers were, and how the lines of their work blurred, both on set and at home. A 1985 interview with the L.A. Herald-Examiner, for example, notes their ‘huge office in back . . . with special screenwriting desks that face each other’ (Cherubin, 1985:  B1). A  couple of years later, in an interview with DramaLogue (the former West coast weekly theatre trade newspaper) following the release of Baby Boom, Meyers explained how they work in the following fashion: There are definite things we do divide up but, generally, everything is worked on by both of us. I’ll write something and give it to him. He’ll re-write it and give it back to me. Then I’ll re-write that. We’ll then just throw out ideas to one another. It is never a matter of one person sitting down and writing while the other does something else. We are usually always together during the process. (Martinez, 1987: 6) Shyer goes on to describe how on set Meyers is always watching a monitor hooked up to the camera while he directs, following every scene as it is shot and ‘as the camera sees it. After we do a scene, Nancy and I will talk about it. It’s a great way of working’ (ibid.). In

35

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

35

this vein, a 1994 article on the couple written as they were filming I Love Trouble (subheaded ‘Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer Discuss the Joys of Collaboration on the Set and in the Home’) is illustrated with a photo picturing Meyers on set between Shyer and star Nick Nolte as all three gaze intently at an out-of-shot monitor, Meyers dominating the frame and looking to all intents and purposes like the director in the scene, with a pair of headphones draped around her neck (Benesch, 1994: 32). (Indeed, in a 2009 interview recalling the nearly two decades she spent in the industry before directing, Meyers commented, ‘I had been so hands-on during all of our movies; I was there every minute and sitting at the monitor,’ such that the move into directing was not a massive shift for her (Lewis, 2009–10, 125)). Asked again about their writing practices and ‘who comes up with which ideas’, Shyer remarks, ‘ “if you put a gun to my head, I  would have no idea.” “No, there’s no way of knowing,” Meyers adds’ (Benesch, 1994: 32). Elsewhere, Diane Keaton muses, ‘They’re connected at the hip. I’ve never seen anything like it’, having worked with them on two films by this time (in Benesch, 1994: 31). Indeed, Keaton’s Baby Boom co-star, Harold Ramis, evoked the same recollection in 2009, remembering how in working on that film ‘I got to observe the close collaboration between the director Charles Shyer and his producer, co-writer and wife [sic], Nancy Meyers, now a major director herself . . . these two were negotiating every major creative decision on the film. Their preparation was meticulous, their design was impeccable, their writing sparkled’ (Ramis, 2009). It is quite apparent that many of the broad themes and motifs one might point to as recurrent in Meyers’s solo body of directorial work  – its playful, voluble dialogue; a penchant for the ‘battle of the sexes’; contemplation of the tension between women’s professional aspirations and their domestic lives and relationships; spirited women characters, sometimes portrayed in the workplace, who often are or become high achievers – are also identifiable in and characteristic of the body of work she built as a writer/producer alongside Shyer, and sprung from a mutual love of Hollywood’s classical relationship comedies. Of course one cannot say, as a result, whether she was the driving force behind the partnership in honing the successful brand they established; and as the interviews from the period cited above demonstrate, both parties are at great pains to stress their indissoluble co-authorship (not that these declarations can be taken themselves to constitute some unquestionable ‘fact’). So too might it

36

36

NANCY MEYERS

be said that the above themes and motifs are characteristic in some shape or form of many comedic but still culturally conscious films in this period, as Hollywood engaged with, or attempted to contain, some might say, the politics of second wave feminism and the later shift to the third wave. This era included a number of successful workplace/romantic comedies such as 9 to 5 (1980), Broadcast News (1987) and Working Girl (1988) (as well as the less successful Switching Channels (1988), a remake of The Front Page (1931) / His Girl Friday (1940)), for example. But with their partnership bleeding over between the professional and the private, it might be said Shyer and Meyers were particularly well placed in this zeitgeist to write jointly about some of this landscape. As the United Artists press release for Baby Boom put it baldly, ‘In writing together, the filmmakers agree they have the advantage of approaching any situation or exchange of dialogue from both a male and female point of view’ (United Artists, 1987). In the same vein, the period’s media coverage of them suggests that their evident intimacy has produced a highly attuned shared ear for capturing the everyday cadences of witty, eloquent, bantering couples. As Benesch puts it, for example, ‘Conversing with Meyers and Shyer is akin to hearing dialogue from their films – it’s alternately entertaining and provocative’ (1994: 30). Taken together, this coverage becomes quite fascinating, and worth some closer examination here, for the manner in which it constructs them as a smart, bantering couple themselves, thus echoing a romantic film tradition they both admire and seek to advance and in the process constructing them as its kind of natural successors.

Hollywood and the writing couple As traced in the Introduction, Meyers and Shyer were introduced to one another in the mid-1970s by Harvey Miller, with whom they would eventually co-write Private Benjamin, and the two were friends and writing collaborators before eventually becoming a couple. It seems telling that in her New York Times interview with Daphne Merkin, Meyers sets the stage for her romance with Shyer by way of a movie reference, recalling that ‘we became very, very good friends for a couple of years before we started dating . . . Our relationship started to turn when we worked together on a rewrite over a long Memorial Day weekend. It changed one evening. The

37

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

37

lot was closed, and being on a movie lot at night was very romantic, like “Sunset Boulevard” ’ (Merkin, 2009). Here Meyers summons up an affectionate and sentimentalized nostalgia for the era and practices of Classical Hollywood. This is evoked, first, by remembering the spaces of her courtship with Shyer, calling to mind a romanticized time when studios still ran lots and had writers on staff (‘I have often fantasized about being a contract writer in the ’30s or ’40s,’ she has confessed elsewhere (Galloway, 2007)). Second, this reverence for old-time Hollywood is summoned by directly invoking Billy Wilder’s much venerated Sunset Boulevard (1950), a director she has professed immense admiration for (e.g. Linden, 2004a; Dawes, 2007) and a film which itself sombrely charts the demise of the industry’s ‘golden age’. Indeed, in a 1987 interview with Shyer, Meyers takes a similar tack again by describing how the work of another of the directors she greatly admires provided the backdrop to the moment she and Shyer knew they had fallen for one another. As Los Angeles Times feature writer Paul Rosenfeld recounts it, ‘Pressed, they can pinpoint the moment they knew they were in love. “In bed, we were watching Preston Sturges’s ‘Miracles of Morgan’s Creek,’ and there was this moment when Eddie Bracken collapsed . . . and Chuck and I both fell out of bed laughing. That was the moment” ’ (Rosenfield, 1987: I–X). Meanwhile, in the same interview Shyer goes on to reflect on another of the ‘Hollywood greats’ invoked above, calling on Howard Hawks’s celebrated screwball comedy when he talks about falling for Meyers:  ‘It’s like His Girl Friday, when Roz Russell finally realizes she’d rather be with Cary Grant than Ralph Bellamy. That’s how I  felt about Nanc . . . ’ (ibid.). Indeed, the couple evidently share a particular empathy with and affection for Rosalind Russell, since in another interview published a short time later in The Hollywood Reporter and promoting the release of Baby Boom, the journalist notes ‘Baby Boom’s lead character was actually modelled partly on Meyers herself and mainly on actress Rosalind Russell’ (Schneider, 1987). Furthermore, the United Artists press release for Baby Boom cites Meyers on this influence in the section ‘About the Filmmakers’: ‘We write with Roz Russell, Katherine Hepburn and Carole Lombard in mind,’ explained Meyers who while growing up was inspired by films that featured smart, glamorous career girls  – classics like His Girl Friday, Adam’s Rib and Woman of the Year (United Artists, 1987).

38

38

NANCY MEYERS

Meyers and Shyer narrate their romance like a series of movie excerpts, then, evoking a handful of moments extracted from the kinds of sparky, enthralling screen love affairs and scenarios they evidently aspired to write themselves. This outlook says a good deal both about the cultural irresistibility of such romantic images and the kinds of writers ‘The Shmeyers’ were – self-consciously admiring and recalling, even imitating, a certain golden age style in their work. Indeed, one could surmise they deliberately call on these comparative descriptions as a way of depicting themselves and their films as entangled with these great classical stars, directors and their stories, conflating the work they do and the people they are with the great Hollywood films and legends that once were. Their story is constructed as one of symbiotic professional and romantic synergy, and from an industry and publicity perspective, they fulfilled or presented themselves as belonging to a small but enduringly appealing, classical Hollywood trope – that of the working male-female couple or partnership who write together. It is quite evident from the interviews above and numerous others the couple gave during the years of their partnership, as well as from their films themselves, that Meyers and Shyer sought to model their films on those classical Hollywood comedies where ‘spunky’ women were able to hold their own among their husbands, partners and other male peers, both in the workplace and in their romantic escapades. This enabled the pair to construct a simultaneously very nostalgic and very ‘modern’ outlook in their work perfectly fitted to the times they were writing in, a period when second-wave feminism was being subsumed by the growing consolidation of postfeminism. Importantly, the postfeminist ‘sensibility’, as Rosalind Gill has described it (2007), endorses women’s seeming empowerment and individualism while also reinscribing the notion of ‘natural difference’ between men and women. These classic movies too had similarly championed an idea of women’s independence while embracing heterosexual romance and the pleasure of male/female different-but-complementary companionship. A  1994 BOXOFFICE magazine article underlines the couple’s affection for this era, interviewing them on the set of their caperthriller-romcom I Love Trouble where they explain, ‘[They] knew that they wanted to make a newspaper movie. “We love these old newspaper movies,” says Shyer. Their favourite, they add together, is His Girl Friday’ (Benesch, 1994:  32). Indeed, I Love Trouble

39

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

39

explicitly invokes the celebrated pedigree of His Girl Friday and its screenwriter Ben Hecht when famed ‘Chicago Chronicle’ hack Peter Brackett (Nick Nolte) observes to his rival Sabrina Petersen (Julia Roberts) from the ‘Chicago Globe’ that they are drinking in the same spot that (former Chicago Daily News journalist) Hecht once frequented. Next in the BOXOFFICE piece, the stars of I Love Trouble, Roberts and Nolte, are described by the writer as ‘a modern Hepburn and Tracy’ (Benesch, 1994: 30), thereby invoking films like Adam’s Rib (in which Hepburn and Tracy played married sparring lawyers on either side of a troubling ‘domestic’ criminal case). But in this article, the same star parallel is invoked by journalist Benesch to describe Meyers and Shyer themselves when she goes on, The comparison to Hepburn and Tracy  – or perhaps Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, another Hollywood couple, who wrote the Hepburn-Tracy classic ‘Adam’s Rib’ – is unavoidable. Do they see themselves that way? ‘Maybe,’ Meyers admits, ‘That would be great,’ adds Shyer. (ibid.) Actually, one senses that they actively courted and very much embraced such a comparison, which placed them in an aspirational and impressive tradition of great writing partnerships and provided the media with an engaging ‘hook’ with which to position them. Nowhere is their personal and professional investment in the motif of the Hollywood couple who write clearer than in their second film, Irreconcilable Differences, which the two co-wrote and produced and which marked Shyer’s first outing as director. The film did not perform quite as well as they’d hoped, in the Shmeyers’s view because it was misleadingly promoted, via publicity that overplayed the import of its child emancipation storyline, while they saw it as a film ‘about the evolution and destruction of [a] marriage’ (Cherubin, 1985:  B-4). The film enjoys a knowing nod with audiences who share its writers’ love for the golden age by having protagonist Albert Brodsky (Ryan O’Neal) hold a PhD from NYU devoted to an ‘analysis of the sexual overtones in the early films of Ernst Lubitsch’, a premise which enables the script to explain the celebrated ‘Lubitsch touch’ to the unversed. The Shmeyers were right to note the film was widely promoted and discussed, and is now largely remembered, as the movie in

40

40

NANCY MEYERS

which a pre-adolescent Casey Brodsky  – importantly played by Drew Barrymore – gets to ‘divorce’ her irresponsible parents. This angle proved prescient, since just a few years later the young actor would herself also be ‘emancipated’ in court from her parents in real life. The film’s extra-textual history has thus deflected attention from what might be called an uneven but also frequently incisive, highly reflexive and acerbic account of the romance, marriage and eventual demise of a Hollywood couple and their travails in a competitive industry that feeds their destructive egotism. The film offers quite a different and rather bleaker insiders’ perspective on this world than that more commonly suggested by the duo’s warm affection for the Hollywood of the past, resulting in a film more akin temperamentally to the dark melodrama of Sunset Boulevard than the thought-provoking but often sparkling charm of Adam’s Rib. In fact, Meyers has explained how the film was prompted by their experiences in the industry following the success of Private Benjamin, commenting, ‘We got a lot of attention from it and that’s what we wrote about in Irreconcilable Differences – that success in Hollywood can sometimes bring out the worst in people’ (Lewis, 2009/10: 125). In this sense a comparison to Sunset Boulevard, in which the narcissism fuelled by Hollywood success proves tragically deleterious to the protagonists, is perhaps not far from the mark at all.

‘Two hearts and a typewriter’ The appeal of this promotional angle, situating the pair as part of a romantic Hollywood tradition, in which the charm of famed professional couples, both on screen/on set and off, merge and blend (Tracy and Hepburn were romantically involved in real life too though he was married), is perhaps most explicitly signalled by Jan Cherubin’s 1985 LA Herald-Examiner article entitled ‘Writing Couples Who Write about Couples’. The piece notes that ‘it is often said that funny, talky, intelligent comedies don’t get made any more, comedies like Adam’s Rib or The Philadelphia Story – movies about men and women and the battle between. But often, when they do come out, they’re written by married or co-habiting couples’ (1985: B-1). She goes on to interview a selection of current writing couples, headed up by Meyers and Shyer, placing them

41

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

41

alongside not only Kanin and Gordon (who also wrote Pat and Mike (1952)) but the much revered Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, who wrote The Thin Man film series. A long profile of the couple detailing how they work and how they met follows, capturing some of their routines and the blurring of their private and professional lives, where Cherubin observes, ‘The two writers like to work in the afternoon, breaking for dinner . . . [they] do very little separately, and that suits them fine’ (1985: B-4). Significantly, Goodrich and Hackett also wrote the original Father of the Bride films, and, as noted, Meyers and Shyer kept the pair on the writing credits for the remake alongside their own names.3 On the one hand, this might be seen as respectful recognition of the talent and authorship preceding their labour, and their undeniable debt to the original. But at the same time it works again to rather conflate their work with these celebrated figures across the generations that separate them. Bolstering this nostalgic vision of old-school writing further, in a 1991 Mirabella magazine feature publicizing the Father of the Bride remake (subtitled ‘The Best Marriage in Hollywood May Belong to the Unmarried Couple Remaking Father of the Bride’), Meyers divulges, ‘We don’t even write on computers. We use typewriters’ (Rubenstein, 1991: 62). She tells how she didn’t mind working on the remake script under the pressure of a truncated schedule because ‘it tapped into the best part about being a writer for me . . . The Roz Russell, His Girl Friday, Igot-an-idea-boss, female-writing persona’ (Rubenstein, 1991: 64). This remark conjures up precisely the kinds of golden age scenes the couple seem to have sought to nurture, where one imagines Meyers animatedly banging away at her typewriter while Shyer-asCary-Grant encourages her approvingly, and prefigures Meyers’s heroines like Darcy Maguire in What Women Want, staying late in the office, giving her work her all, under pressure the night before a decisive meeting. Similarly, a 1987 Elle article profiles the couple as ‘The HumanComedy Team’, with the accompanying photo showing them adjacent to each other together in their office, surrounded by shelves lined with books. They are each smiling by a desk piled with scripts, which is topped also by a vase of roses, a detail which seems to quietly hint at the presence of (a certain idea of) ‘feminine’ or domestic and romantic interests being at work too in this work space (see Schaefer, 1987: 58). Meyers has been cited

42

42

NANCY MEYERS

as saying, ‘Any movie that had a desk in it for a woman I liked’ (Rosenfield, 1987: n.p.; see also United Artists, 1987), and the sentiment behind this rather arresting statement can be seen as crucial to the Meyers oeuvre. It is a vision which evokes a core image of Meyers, drawn from the classical films she so admires, enacted both in her films and circulated and nurtured too in publicity of herself, one that she clearly cultivated throughout this period and beyond. In fact, I argue that within the mise-en-scène of her recurrently splendid interiors and women-centred stories, the image of a woman at a desk, and more broadly the figure of ‘the working woman’, is another of Meyers’s ‘signature’ motifs. Indeed, she is the-woman-at-her-desk, and not just in an abstract sense, but more literally too in terms of her insistence that she ‘writes what she knows’, consistently bringing her own experiences and perspectives to bear in the writing of her characters, so that in this recurrent protagonist she has brought a kind of image of herself to bear. This emblematic figure thus plays an important part in underscoring, indeed crystallizing, the whiteness and privilege of Meyers’s oeuvre; the archetype for the ‘woman-at-her-desk’ may be drawn from certain relationship comedies of the golden age of Hollywood, but she also very much (re)emerged in the era of the women’s movement which the Shmeyers’s work was in conversation with. And as Suzanne Leonard notes, ‘As a feminist icon, the modern woman worker is, predictably white and upper or middle class, as were the women whose discourse fomented the working woman as a feminist model in the 1960s and 1970s’ (2007: 101). Furthermore, she is a figure who endures intact in this manner today since ‘postfeminist media culture has also implicitly accepted the white, middle- to upper-class model of the female worker as exemplary’ (ibid.), with her being consistently visible in Meyers’s work from Private Benjamin to The Intern. As late as 2001, when the Shmeyers had already separated, a Variety article entitled ‘Two Hearts and a Typewriter’ about Gordon and Kanin (writers of ‘maybe the best battle-of-the-sexes movies from Hollywood’) draws parallels between Gordon-Kanin and the Meyers-Shyer alliance (Roberts, 2001). Demonstrating the enduring appeal of the ‘couple-who-write’ trope at the foundation of the Shmeyers’s popular representation, even after they have gone it alone, the piece places them in a lineage of ‘successful malefemale comedy screenwriting teams’ that the author extends also to

43

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

43

FIGURE 1.1 ‘Any movie that had a desk in it for a woman I liked,’ Meyers has said: in The Intern (2015) Jules is the emblematic ‘woman-at-her-desk’ seen throughout Meyers’s films.

‘Betty Comden and Adolph Green,4 and Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson’ (ibid.). Yet Meyers’s invoking of Sunset Boulevard as a touchstone for the couple’s early romance above is also a little nonplussing, for, as Wilder fans will know all too well, the scriptwriters’ romance in this film ends far from happily. Shyer’s subsequent undistinguished movie career, in which his solo directing projects after the couple’s break-up (namely, The Affair of the Necklace (2001) and Alfie (2004)) did not perform well, is evidently not comparable to Joe Gillis’s sorry fate in Wilder’s achingly melancholy film. But the poor reception that met these films must have been felt as an acute disappointment indeed. In professional terms at least, the ‘happy ending’ after the couple’s break-up belongs very much to Meyers, since it is quite evident that Shyer’s career peaked working alongside Meyers, whereas hers thrived following their separation. As Merkin discreetly puts it, ‘A dispassionate observer cannot help noting that the couple have not done equally well since going their own ways. Meyers has clearly flourished while Shyer has stalled . . . an inversion of the usual order of things’ (2009). Indeed, Rochlin’s profile of Meyers coinciding with the release of What Women Want in 2000 seems to speculate on how emancipatory the dissolving of

4

44

NANCY MEYERS

their professional partnership has proven for her even while Meyers is at pains not to malign her ex-partner, asking: How, for example, did she describe the experience of rewriting ‘What Women Want’ in her San Fernando home office, alone at the computer for the first time in years? ‘Really fun! I felt a bit unleashed,’ she said, adding ‘Not that I was on a leash. It’s just that having written so many movies with a partner and always checking in with that person or having them run a pencil through your work, it was liberating.’ Then, perhaps concerned she was denigrating her past collaborations, she threw in a little diplomatic postscript: ‘I didn’t know, by the way, if I was doing better or the same. I just knew it was liberating’. (Rochlin, 2000) Meyers has evidently continued to seek a certain diplomacy whenever the matter of her and Shyer’s diverging career trajectories looms, since Merkin notes that Meyers requested she refrain from asking Shyer about his later career while interviewing him for her profile of Meyers (2009). Shyer’s critical assessment of What Women Want on its release was warm, noting that while it was not a diversion from the kind of work they’d done together, it was still ‘hers’; ‘Fantastic. Original . . . It’s an extension of what we did. But more Nancy’ (Rochlin, 2000). Similarly, Meyers’s agent Jeff Berg who used to represent both her and Shyer notes that since the partnership dissolved, her work is ‘richer and more personal now’ (Merkin, 2009). But what is clear from the piecemeal history and discourses charted above is that as long as Meyers was one half of a directorwriter/producer-writer couple, she was representable, fathomable and admirable  – readily and neatly slotted into an exclusive but memorable and revered tradition of male-female writing partnerships in Hollywood. Indeed, the very emergence and popularization of the term ‘The Shmeyers’ is telling in this respect. As Vanessa Díaz notes, the celebrity couple portmanteau, in which a celebrity couple’s names are blended, ‘is an exclusionary practice that predominantly promotes white heteronormativity’ (2015: 277), bestowed typically only on certain (culturally sanctioned) partnerships that work to popularize and normalize such relationships. When Meyers began to work alone, and began to direct, she could not be so neatly and normatively situated anymore.

45

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

45

Going solo Comparing how the two major phases of Meyers’s career and identity have been configured by the media reception/construction of them, one finds certain telling discourses repeatedly diverge across them. This is the movement, then, from being one half of ‘the Shmeyers’  – in which Meyers was also positioned as a domestic partner, and in which the male partner fulfilled the senior professional role of director – to being a solo practitioner and a (nominally at least) single, independent woman. When expressed by the Shmeyers, affection for golden age classics very often led to approving parallels being drawn, as we have seen in the media profiles of them examined above; but when observed in Meyers’s work it has instead regularly been received as presumptuousness or selfindulgence, at the very least, misguidedness. ‘Compared to the ’30s comedies Meyers evidently reveres’, notes the Village Voice review of Something’s Gotta Give in an unflattering contrast, her characters ‘say precious little . . . and they say it slowly’  – positioning her film as a failed imitation, rather than an affectionately intended tribute of some kind (Atkinson, 2003). And even while reviewing What Women Want quite positively as a ‘mostly very pleasant throwback to 30s and 40s battle-of-the-sexes star vehicles’, Screen International pulls the rug from under Meyers at the same time by nevertheless concluding that ‘she’s no Preston Sturges’, as if to ensure she and the audience remember her place in the Hollywood hierarchy (Goodridge, 2000; see also Goodridge, 2006; Foundas, 2006; Landesman, 2006). Furthermore, the right to final script approval and other markers of professional esteem when won by the Shmeyers was generally either noted without comment or admired as evidence of their having grafted hard and ‘made it’; Meyers’s drive for autonomy and authority, however, has instead earned her something of a reputation as ‘supposedly a very difficult director’ (Silverstein, 2009) who according to Jack Nicholson ‘knows what she wants and [is] not afraid to get bloody to get it’ (Griffin, 2003). In this way she is positioned as (over-)controlling, demanding and bewilderingly fastidious in the workplace, ‘known for her obsessive, micromanagerial attention to detail’ (Merkin, 2009). Such characteristics clearly sit uncomfortably with dominant notions of femininity as compliant and temperate, leading to sly disapproval and

46

46

NANCY MEYERS

underlining again in the process how the nature of the director’s role occupies an essentialist/ized, gendered space. What is more, Meyers does not try to play this reputation down by pretending not to embrace her authority, being quite unambiguous that she ‘owns it’ and expects it to be observed by others. Discussing her dogged approach on set, she has said, ‘If an actor says, “Don’t you think you have it?” I’ll say “No, not really” . . . To be honest, I don’t really feel like I have to explain it’ (Kaufman, 2009). Speaking at BAFTA in 2015 she remarked without hesitation that ‘I would never take a pen to a meeting’, stating that when she meets with studio bosses ‘I’m not there to take notes’. Explicating further, she tells how she is so confident of what she’s written by the time her projects are that advanced that she doesn’t believe she needs guidance on her work, or expect to have to take instructions from others (BAFTA, 2015). ‘He says I’m the biggest pain in the ass he’s ever met,’ she commented wryly in the same interview referring to composer Hans Zimmer and the demands she has put on him when working with him on the music in three of her films. Importantly, she then notes that music is ‘the only thing that’s added’ to the movie after shooting, ‘the only thing that goes on that you don’t make happen’ (ibid.), thus suggesting that music may be a particularly loaded element of the film package for Meyers as a director used to and demanding close creative control across all aspects of her work. As the interviewers at the 2010 Writers Guild Foundation masterclass with Meyers noted, the stage and character directions of her scripts are extremely precisely rendered and fleshed out, and Meyers is known not to veer from them during filming or have her actors riff on them. (‘You say her words – you don’t improvise, you say Nancy’s words,’ notes Diane Keaton on working with her (Linden, 2004b: 27)). As a screenwriter, then, she acknowledges, ‘I’m incredibly specific in the writing’ (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010), while as a director ‘I follow the script very, very carefully. I  rarely deviate from how I  describe the scene’ (Topel, 2006: 265). In a 2007 director’s round table with The Hollywood Reporter, she rather disagrees with director Guillermo del Toro who talks about being able to work with ‘happy accidents’ when things don’t go to plan as being like ‘catching butterflies’. ‘I don’t let go of the script . . . the script is the bible,’ she states. ‘That “catching a butterfly” – you do want to be open to it, but I don’t want to go too far. I don’t trust it ultimately’ (Galloway, 2007). Indeed, in the

47

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

47

same interview she explains again, as she has elsewhere, that she was drawn to direct partly because she saw it as the obvious way to ensure her words were rendered exactly on screen in the manner she wanted: ‘Because I am a writer is why I want to direct. It is about putting it out there exactly the way I meant it’ (Galloway, 2007; see also Linden, 2004a). Somehow, this way of working has become gendered in the way Meyers is configured, construed as a sign that she is ‘uptight’ or shrewish, rather than simply evidencing her confidence in her craft – or, contradictorily, it sometimes seems to hint that she is not creatively confident enough since she can’t ‘let go’ and deviate from the script and over-compensates by micro-managing. Her method might be unfavourably compared as not as ‘creative’ as some of her (overwhelmingly male) peers who speak more willingly about being open to a more improvisatory model; here it becomes evidence of a kind of less imaginative, more rigid outlook, at odds with the particular romantic vision of a (again, usually male) free-thinking creative genius who responds to and finds art in the unexpected, and that del Toro fits with above by contrast to Meyers. Similarly, she is known for a demanding predilection for multiple takes, an approach Jack Nicholson found ‘exasperating’ (Griffin, 2003; see also Kaufman, 2009; Silverstein, 2009; Merkin, 2009). Indeed she acknowledges this is her practice, telling how on the set of Something’s Gotta Give she did ‘a lot of takes’; when pressed to be more precise (‘How many takes is a lots of takes? Do you mind?’), she pauses then admits, ‘Well, with Jack [Nicholson], less. Under ten. But close to ten’, and on each set-up (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010). But as the ICM agent John Burnham notes, ‘If Mike Nichols said to do another take . . . there would never be any issue’ (cited in Merkin, 2009). In a similar vein, Kaufman’s 2009 LA Times article speaks of Meyers’s ‘exacting nature’ in the workplace, and suggestively opens by declaring that on her set ‘Nancy Meyers rules the roost’; a description that is surely both exactly what one would expect from a director at work, and hard to imagine being allied to a man doing the same job. Babb’s profile, also from 2009, bolsters the tiresome implication that to be a driven or rigorous authority figure in the film industry is to enter a male behavioural province. She suggests – rather insultingly – that it is Meyers’s intense commitment that has made her stand out from other women directors (who presumably care less than their male peers, then, it would bafflingly seem),

48

48

NANCY MEYERS

when she comments:  ‘There is no doubt that she is a perfectionist, a workaholic even, but perhaps her complete dedication to her craft (she sees every last piece of marketing and advertising for each film before it is signed off) is what has made her succeed where other women have not’ (Babb, 2009, my emphasis). Some years later Meyers would take exception to the repeated use of exactly this appellation in the critical reception of Jules as a ‘workaholic’ in The Intern ‘simply because she takes her job seriously’ (Freeman, 2015), evidencing how high-achieving women (and perhaps especially working mothers) who are committed to their careers must be pathologized in contemporary culture. Neither does the ‘workaholic’ tag fit compatibly with Meyers’s seeming healthy attitude to a work-life balance, and the amount of time away from working she is evidently comfortable enough (economically, professionally and psychologically) to be able to take. She freely admits to adhering to rigorously systematic filming practices and scrupulous preproduction, including outlines that can run to eighty pages (Clines, 2009: 26). But this meticulousness is arguably something rather different to ‘workaholicism’, with its connotations of ceaseless, obsessive turnover, especially given that her insistence on long breaks between projects has entailed her taking an enviable year off after every film (see Clines, 2009; Dawes 2009). In sum, newly single, ‘Nancy Meyers’ had to be newly positioned (and contained) in a fresh fashion as a woman practitioner – and a ‘triple threat’ (writer/ producer/ director) at that – in her own right. And, as observed, the easiest ways to do this have been either to withhold proper recognition of her achievements, to undermine, or to disparage them.

Back to the 80s It is not possible within the constraints of this book to explore all the films that Meyers and Shyer worked on together over the course of their long partnership. Nevertheless, it would be remiss not to examine something of their collaborations in a little detail here before examining Meyers’s films as director. This is in part, as noted, to begin to identify what would emerge as certain key preoccupations and tropes in Meyers’s work as being present from the start in her collaborative projects with Shyer. Not all their films would arguably reward extended consideration in the same ways

49

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

49

here. I Love Trouble, it might be said, for example, seems to have been largely forgotten for understandable reasons, being a relatively competent but ultimately disappointingly hackneyed exercise in trying to evoke the style of the couple’s beloved 1930s/1940s relationship comedies. In attempting to capture that age of ‘sassy dames’ who were also ‘easy on the eye’, it features some breathtakingly crude objectification of Roberts, crassly delivered in what is seemingly meant to be understood as ‘old-time’ style, that is, a sultry jazz track is bolted on as Peter catches a look at her and the camera cuts to ogle at her legs in fragmented close-up.5 It would certainly have been fascinating to be privy to the conversations between Meyers and Shyer at the monitor at these moments, since Meyers arguably doesn’t tend to objectify her women stars in this kind of insistent manner. When Marin performs a sexy strip down to her underwear for Harry in Something’s Gotta Give, for example, the objectifying ‘male gaze’ is doubtless indulged and in play. A  few hours later, however, he suffers a heart attack, so that perhaps one might retrospectively read aspects of the scene and the film’s commentary on the gaze a little wryly. Furthermore, Meyers has also told on the DVD’s director’s commentary how ‘everybody thought [Marin] should be in a bra but me’ in the scene, explaining how she insisted that Marin instead wear a camisole to keep her ‘more covered’, especially given she would later be seen in a bikini.6 Indeed while the whole film acknowledges that Marin can be held up as a model of youthful female allure, its wider impetus is to bemoan the culture that has produced such an ageist conception of desirability. But I Love Trouble and the Shmeyers’s less successful work aside here, it is important to recognize just how popular and landmark some of their films proved to be in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly enduring as standout moments in the era’s cultural deliberations about the women’s movement and working women. In 1980 Private Benjamin was regarded as boldly putting a woman star and a woman’s story at the core of a mainstream Hollywood comedy, in its tale of a young widow striking out on her own, in an era grappling with the consequences of second-wave feminism. It was not the first film of the period to put the question of woman’s consciousness raising prompted by the women’s movement at its centre. For example, Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978) had done this to some acclaim and debate two years earlier with its story of Erica (Jill Clayburgh), a wealthy Manhattan

50

50

NANCY MEYERS

woman who must reconfigure her lost identity after her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Discussing the film in a New York Times article entitled ‘Are Feminist Heroines an Endangered Species?’ Caryn James notes how as part of her process of recovery Erica next ‘took up with an artist played by Alan Bates, then amazingly let him move to Vermont without her. We last see her walking through Manhattan, struggling to carry the large painting he left behind, a perfectly contented smile on her face . . . no-one, feminist or not, could doubt that the film ends in triumphant selfreliance’ (James, 1989). In fact, in an intertextual moment, Private Benjamin’s eponymous heroine Judy invokes An Unmarried Woman directly, to evidence her bewilderment as a cossetted young woman brought up in a traditional household wanting a traditional life of her own, feeling at odds with the changing times brought about by feminism. ‘Did you happen to see that film An Unmarried Woman? Well, I didn’t get it. I mean I would have been Mrs Alan Bates so fast that guy wouldn’t have known what hit him,’ she observes early in the film. By the end, however, she will elect to reject marriage for an uncertain future  – but one which, more importantly, entails a destiny of her own making. By the end of the 1980s, the Shmeyers were known for ‘deftly [blending] social satire with feminist concerns’ (Schaefer, 1987: 58) and ‘relevant social topics involving a strong female character’ (Galbraith, 1988: 64). Indeed, despite its trite female objectification and its marrying off of Sabrina/Roberts to a man twenty-six years her senior, even I Love Trouble arguably delivered this female-centred outlook at one level since up-and-coming hack Sabrina more than holds her own against seasoned professional Peter. (Indeed, in interview the Shmeyers explained of its feminist impulse, ‘They rescue each other in “I Love Trouble”, says Shyer. “She’s not a side kick in an adventure park,” Meyers amplifies’ (Benesch, 1994: 32)). Seven years after Private Benjamin had put the cultural shifts wrought by second-wave feminism on screen, the Shmeyers delivered another film that tapped into, indeed augmented, the zeitgeist with Baby Boom. Taking the progress of the woman’s movement a little further and turning the spotlight on it under a new lens, the film asks what happens if the professional women starting to crack ‘the glass ceiling’ who have been allowed entry into the workplace have children. When J. C. Wiatt (Diane Keaton), a high-powered businesswoman known as ‘the Tiger Lady’, finds herself presented

51

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

51

with an orphaned toddler girl left to her by a distant cousin just as she is about to be promoted to partner, will she find that motherhood and a career can be compatible? This question and the idiom of ‘having it all’ have become the central locution of the discourse of postfeminism, one usually located as having gained momentum in film and TV in the 1990s. In this sense, Baby Boom was rather helping lead the way in 1987 (Carrie Rickey notes, ‘The film illustrated the Mommy Track two years before Felice Schwartz named the phenomenon’ (2015)). Thus the particular narrative settings and frameworks it evoked in exploring these questions (the retreat from Manhattan and a corporate high-flyer lifestyle to becoming country mom and ‘mumpreneur’ in rural Vermont), and the iconography it configured (the power-dressed business woman with briefcase in hand and baby on hip), have endured as archetypal ones that still resonate in discussion of the unending ‘having it all’ conundrum today. In the debate it prompted, some interpretations of Baby Boom read it as merely pointing to the innate incompatibility of motherhood and work, and as championing the superior gratifications of the maternal over a career. In her New York Times piece, for example, Caryn James described the film as ‘the perfect antithesis of “An Unmarried Woman”; Diane Keaton neatly reversed Jill Clayburgh’s trajectory, abandoning a high-powered Manhattan career for the joys of life in Vermont with a baby and Sam Shephard’ (James, 1989). It was invoked too by Susan Faludi in her landmark study of the media’s campaign against feminism, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (1991), as ‘another prototypical woman’s film of the eighties . . . Like Fatal Attraction, it was a movie that the media repeatedly invoked as “evidence” that babies and business don’t mix . . . Baby Boom’s values are muddled:  the film takes a feeble swipe at the corporate system before backing off completely’ (1991: 159–61). The word ‘muddled’ here is absolutely key, however  – it is just as possible to read the film as showing a woman rejecting the conventional corporate world, because of its obdurate masculinist practices, rather than merely accepting that ‘it is what it is’. By the end, the film suggests that it is the contemporary workplace with its cultures of long-hours presenteeism and backstabbing that needs to change, not J.C.’s priorities. In this way Baby Boom prefigures by many years the deliberation and media interest that met Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in

52

52

NANCY MEYERS

The Atlantic, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’, a prominent instalment in a debate that had never actually gone away, leading to her book Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family (2015). Here she argued that capitalist corporate working culture must fundamentally adapt, giving greater recognition and value to employees’ carer responsibilities, in a marketplace where disdain for carers and care-work disproportionately damages and effects women. However, as critics pointed out, Slaughter’s vision of the working woman is again a privileged, white, educated, middle-class one  – her situation bearing little pertinence to the experiences and problems facing the many working-class women and women of colour in casualized, minimum wage jobs. As Tressie McMillan Cottom noted of the original Atlantic piece by Slaughter, ‘The article’s artwork, featuring an adorable white toddler in an expensive leather attaché case spoke volumes about the article’s intended impact and audience: this was an article aimed at upwardly mobile white middle-class women’s anxieties about precarity, status competition, and reproduction’ (2016). Indeed, as invoked by McMillan Cottom, this artwork also harked back to the iconography of the Baby Boom poster, looking a little like J. C. Wiatt had just put her bag and her baby down for a moment to step out of the frame and take a call.

FIGURE 1.2 Shopping for nappies in a power suit:  the image of J.  C. Wiatt in Baby Boom encumbered with briefcase and baby became an iconic image for the struggle to ‘have it all’.

53

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

53

Again, Meyers has spoken of the importance of her personal experience to writing this film, saying, ‘I was pregnant with my second child when we did that movie. I was already raising one child and about to have another . . . But the truth of that movie, the reason she was fired, was about how men had so many more opportunities as parents than women, without anyone judging them, without having to do any “grunt” work. That was everything we were going through’ (Lewis, 2009/10: 126). Thus Meyers and Shyer felt affronted enough by James’s account of their film as ‘reactionary’ (James, 1989) to write to the New  York Times’ letters page, defending their work, playing down the importance of heterosexual romance to the narrative, and stating: We were dismayed that our film, ‘Baby Boom,’ was referred to as reactionary . . . [Caryn James] is not accurately describing the film we wrote. In ‘Baby Boom,’ the Keaton character was forced to leave her executive position in New York because the company for which she worked was rigid and unyielding with regard to working mothers . . . Because of this treatment, she retreats to Vermont. However, she doesn’t give up or give in. She starts her own business and eventually succeeds as an entrepreneur, finding a way to have the two things she wants most  – her career and motherhood. The Shephard character provided romance in her life. He didn’t compensate for or take the place of her career. At the end of the film, Keaton’s character is completely self-reliant. In ‘Baby Boom,’ we endeavoured to move the audience to think and recognize the increasing prejudice women face today. (Meyers and Shyer, 1989) J. C. Wiatt thus also served as an early and memorable pop culture rendering of a female model that has more recently come to the fore as a figurehead of postfeminism – the ‘mumpreneur’. The term, used to signal a mother who combines raising children with establishing and running her own business, was even adopted by the Collins English Dictionary in 2011. As Faludi pointed out, however, the manner in which J. C. Wiatt takes a stand against corporate working practices is not without its problems. Just as

54

54

NANCY MEYERS

the ‘mumpreneur’ figure today typically still speaks to the kind of economic advantage and affluence that few new mothers can hope to access, Faludi observes the privilege running through Wiatt’s approach to ‘opting-out’, as ‘The Tiger Lady retreats to the country, but to an obscenely expensive farmhouse that she can afford only because of her prior Wall Street pay cheques. She turns up her nose at Yuppie materialism, but supports herself by selling designer applesauce baby food to yuppie mothers’ (Faludi, 1991: 161). Still, these issues do not serve to simply wipe out such arresting exchanges as that in which J. C.’s boss lays bare the bones of the gendered corporate workplace when he offers her the chance of a partnership but details blankly what will be at stake for her: ‘A man can be a success and have a personal life, a full personal life – my wife is there for me whenever I need her . . . I guess what I’m saying is, I’m lucky. I can have it all.’ The lynchpin of postfeminism’s supposed quest is revealed to have been there all along – it just already belongs to men. By comparison, in many respects it was The Father of the Bride that was the most safely conventional of their films, ‘probably the broadest comedy we have done’, as Shyer put it (Blair, 1995: 64). A remake of the beloved 1950 Vincente Minelli Hollywood classic, its success prompted a sequel from the partnership five years later. The film did not steer terribly far from Minelli’s original, and the emphasis was on wholesome comedy even if there is clear intent at times to ‘modernize’ it with a nod to the contemporary cultural climate; it is careful to stress the importance of Annie’s (Kimberly Williams) resolve to keep pursuing her career goals after she surprises her family by announcing she is getting married on returning from studying in Europe, insisting that hers will be a marriage of equals. Even here, then, there was perhaps at least some sense of how, as BOXOFFICE put it, ‘In their portrayals of female characters, Meyers and Shyer make an effort to avoid traditional roles’ (Benesch, 1994: 31). Still, Father of the Bride was arguably their least woman-centred text being largely about, and told from, the perspective of a man, constituting the father’s story, not the bride’s; as Shyer noted, it was their ‘first film where a man was the star’ (Rubenstein, 1991: 64). In keeping with her later insistence that it is misleading to call her films chick flicks since they are enjoyed by men and women (Larocca, 2015), for Meyers Father of the Bride’s success can be attributed importantly to its cross-gendered appeal,

5

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

55

where its narrative focus on a wedding should not be taken to mean it speaks merely to somehow ‘feminine’ interests; ‘I think Father of the Bride really touched people . . . It was sort of an idealized family, and how we would all like to be in a world where dysfunctional families are always put on the screen . . . And it was a movie about a father’s love for his daughter . . . I  think fathers liked seeing it’ (Topel, 2006:  269). It is also the film that really launched what would later become the recurrent interest in Meyers as a director who captures something powerfully desirable in the homes her films play out in. If Father of the Bride is a fantasy about ‘an idealized family’, then the stage for that fantasy is its idealized family home. Grand enough to house a wedding marquee, cosy enough to be home to a white picket fence and a basketball hoop, as Bradley Bayou observed in interview to Meyers, ‘It became, sort of, the dream house’ (Bayou, 2013). Meyers confirms, ‘This is when I started having to answer a lot of questions about the houses . . . everybody liked this house . . . after we did this house it seemed like it showed up on a gazillion commercials’ (ibid.). But in what follows, for the purposes of this discussion it is Private Benjamin I  focus on here for the remainder of this chapter as constituting a key text for Meyers and the Shmeyers in numerous ways:  as Meyers’s first fully fledged foray into the movie business; in its contribution to the decade’s filmic engagement with prevalent feminist discourses; in its prominent place in the memorable cultural impact of the Shyer-Meyers oeuvre; and in introducing and underlining central preoccupations and themes that can be found across the breadth of Meyers’s career.

‘It’s about what marriage does to women’ – Private Benjamin When Judy Benjamin was eight years old she confessed her life’s desire to her best friend. ‘All I want,’ Judy whispered, ‘is a big house . . . nice clothes, two closets, a live-in maid, and a professional man for a husband.’ Today, all of Judy’s dreams come true. (Opening title, Private Benjamin)

56

56

NANCY MEYERS

So reads the opening title at the start of Private Benjamin, setting the stage for the wedding scene about to come. Here, after a misjudged first marriage, 28-year-old Judy Benjamin will marry for the second time, surrounded by her wealthy family and friends in Philadelphia, becoming the wife of overbearing, workaholic lawyer Yale Goodman (Albert Brooks). The newlyweds will receive a fat cheque from her father towards their new life, an image which succinctly encapsulates the notion that marriage traditionally entails the commercial exchange of women between men. Two decades later, Meyers’s second film as director would directly invoke Freud’s question ‘What does woman want?’ in its title. In this first shot of her first film as writer-producer, it might be said Private Benjamin’s opening text provided the conventional – but crisis-stricken – preemptive answer to that question as it had been shaped by patriarchal culture for generations, a question that was now being recalibrated by the woman’s movement. In the film that follows, Judy will learn that though she may not be entirely sure of exactly what she does want, it isn’t what she thought she wanted when she was eight. Convincing the studios that audiences would buy a ticket to see all this play out proved no easy task:  ‘Everybody turned that movie down. Everybody. More than once,’ Meyers has said in interview. ‘Women didn’t usually have the lead in comedies’ (cited in Merkin, 2009; see also Babb, 2010). Hence its subsequent success ‘disproved the worn notion that a film without a central male is devoid of boxoffice might’ (Linden, 2004b: 25). The screenwriting credit for Private Benjamin was shared, as noted, across Meyers, Shyer and Harvey Miller, a close friend of Shyer’s whom Meyers had been working with prior to this time on some TV scripts that ultimately went unproduced (BAFTA, 2015)  and who had introduced her and Shyer to one another (Rubenstein, 1991: 62). The film charts the story of a pampered young woman, brought up to expect and desire nothing more than marriage and family with a successful man, who finds herself widowed on her wedding night midway through deeply unsatisfactory, indeed coercive, sex with her pugnacious new husband. With no professional skills of her own, and facing return to the care of her equally dogmatic father, she decides to break out, initially running away to a motel where she reflects, ‘I’ve never not belonged to somebody. Never.’ In her naiveté, she ends up enlisting for the army, where after a decidedly lacklustre start to training, she eventually comes into her own and becomes

57

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

57

the first woman to become a ‘Thornbird’ paratrooper. Following what might be obliquely called sexual harassment from her commanding officer, which Judy rightly calls out as attempted rape, her career takes her to Europe. Here she is eventually forced to decide between the rewards of work or her charismatic, accomplished new boyfriend, French gynaecologist Henri (Armand Assante), and when pushed she chooses love. In the final scenes of the film, however, moments before marrying him, through a short series of flashbacks she realizes that unfaithful, bullying Henri is just another incarnation of her father and dead husband, both of whose sexism curtailed and impaired her sense of self. Glitre notes, ‘In this way, the film articulates her subsequent refusal to marry as a refusal of patriarchy, not just a refusal of Henri’s womanizing’ (2011: 20). She jilts Henri at the altar, punching him and striding purposefully away into the horizon as she tosses off her veil and it flies free into the wind. It is a triumphantly open-ended finish, clearly driven by a second-wave feminist mind-set and its critique of the institution of marriage that provides no answer to the question, ‘Where will she go?’. But it is an ending too in which the audience is left in no doubt that the place she ends up in will be better than the prospective marriage she just abandoned, even though it would have provided her with all she (thought she) wanted at the age of eight. Though co-written, Meyers has described how the original premise for Private Benjamin was hers, an idea that had initially come to her as she was ‘driving on the Ventura Freeway when I was about 27, to run an errand, when I  thought, “What if a girl joined the Army to escape her problems?” ’ (Linden, 2004a). She took the idea to her writing partners: I presented it to them one night after Charles [Shyer] came home and Harvey Miller and I  were working. And I  said ‘So I  have this idea, what do you think of this? Do you think this could be a movie?’ That’s how it happened. So I told the two of them the idea, Charles was an actual screenwriter, Harvey had actually been in the army and I  was an actual woman so, between the three of us we hammered out that script. It was the most fun writing ever. (BAFTA, 2015) She elaborates how, as with her later films, Private Benjamin drew on her personal experience and how Judy Benjamin was modelled

58

58

NANCY MEYERS

closely on aspects of her own background, to the extent that ‘I understood her upbringing, I put her, placed her exactly in the neighbourhood I came from’ (BAFTA, 2015). She expands elsewhere, ‘I never joined the army, but I moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to California and I left my family, you know that was like my big move. Her big move was breaking away through the army. So I’m writing from things I  know, that’s always what I’ve done’ (ibid.; see also Lewis, 2009/10). In fact, the ‘big move’ for both Judy and Meyers was brought about, albeit in different ways, by the fallout from a wedding.7 Growing up in a traditional Jewish household (‘At my Reform temple, girls weren’t even bat mitzvahed’ (Pfefferman, 2003)) while at American University she recalls she ‘went with the program and got engaged to a Jewish boy by junior year’ (ibid.). But a dramatic change of heart followed. ‘We were going to live in Philadelphia. I knew it was a mistake. The date was getting closer, and the wedding gown was hanging on the back of my door. I knew it was not going to last. We were mismatched. I  cancelled three weeks before a 500-guest wedding. I came [to LA] about six months later’ (Larocca, 2015:  38). For both Benjamin and Meyers, then, finding themselves not married (something Judy experiences twice in the film, being initially widowed, and then walking out on her subsequent wedding) enabled a freedom and personal reinvention that would otherwise not have been theirs. In fact, Meyers has been open about her innate misgivings about marriage with regard to the negative impact it can have on women, historically at least. She and Shyer did not marry till 1995, and though evidently a committed couple who emphasized their closeness and the novelty of their jointly romantic/professional partnership in publicity, this distinction was important to Meyers: ‘I wanted us to be filmmaking partners without having that husband-and-wife-team cliché hanging over us, because in Hollywood, people always assume the wife isn’t responsible for the work’ (Pfefferman, 2003). The prospect of ‘work’ is one which had never entered Judy’s head before circumstance takes her to the army. Yet it becomes, unexpectedly, engaging and fulfilling for her in ways she couldn’t have imagined, and her decision to choose Henri and give up work is marked unambiguously to have been a mistake as she becomes again in effect a ‘kept woman’, cajoled into dyeing her hair to please him, dressing in the clothes he admires, expected to ignore his infidelities – and sign a pre-nuptial agreement (in French). Thus for Meyers, speaking in

59

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

59

1985, Private Benjamin was a movie ‘about what marriage does to women’ (Cherubin, 1985: B4).8 Explained in the way just outlined here, Private Benjamin would seem both to be at least as much a drama as a comedy. ‘Dramedy’ might indeed be a more appropriate descriptor, not least since, while the film achieved great box office results and three Oscar nominations (including Best Actress for Hawn and Best Supporting Actress for Eileen Brennan as Judy’s nemesis Captain Lewis), many reviews commented too on what were perceived to be some intermittent and perplexing gear changes across the film. Over the course of Judy’s story, the film morphs from farcical army training scenes, to romantic montages with Henri, to something approaching domestic melodrama in the scenes of Henri’s bullying leading up to their marriage (‘What has been a straightforward military comedy suddenly becomes a convoluted love story . . . the result is two separate movies in one’, as Judith Gustafson put it in Cineaste (1980/81: 32); see also Ebert, 1980). As played by Goldie Hawn, with her capacity for both charming girlishness and physical comedy, doubtless there is laughter to be had here, particularly in the boot-camp scenes which reveal pampered ingénue Judy to be spectacularly unprepared for such a life: ‘Excuse me, is green the only colour these come in?’ she asks on receiving her uniform. But the drama, the darker side, to this woman/girl’s naiveté and the life she has been brought up to expect and want is there from the start too. It might be a ‘joke’ that Yale dies on top of her during sex on the bathroom floor on her wedding night, but it is a sex scene that makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing as she struggles to convince him to be more sensitive (‘Lift your back leg,’ he cajoles her against the sink – ‘I don’t have a back leg,’ she replies). This is a man who earlier in the evening too had pressured her into giving him oral sex in a car parked outside their wedding reception, though she implored him, ‘Not here . . . everybody I know is ten feet away . . . I’m in my dress . . .’. The inference is clear – for a woman, a marriage contract means entering into service, which includes providing sex at one’s husband’s will – this is the deal in return for the ‘big house . . . nice clothes, two closets [and] a live-in maid’ dreamed of at the film’s start. Once she decides not to drop out of her forces training programme, after her shamefaced parents come to collect her complaining ‘You were never a smart girl’, life in the army enables Judy to encounter people and

60

60

NANCY MEYERS

experiences that have never before been open to her. The scenes of female camaraderie around a campfire while on a training exercise in which the women, drawn from a social spectrum one imagines Judy would not have otherwise encountered, share private stories of losing their virginity and the quest for an orgasm, clearly engage with the women’s ‘consciousness-raising’ movement of the era. As Yvonne Tasker notes, ‘Boot camp movies stage rites of passage’, here centred on a woman discovering ‘a sense of identity and selfworth’ (2011: 237). In the process of bringing female characters to the genre, ‘such films draw on the conventions of the woman’s film, a genre that is strongly associated with themes of personal transformation’ (ibid.), and in this sense the film can importantly be situated within such a history of women’s cinema. But while its feminist allegiances were of course remarked on by critics of the time, and have been reflected on since by scholars too, these have sometimes been spoken of as compromised or offset by other less progressive aspects of the film. Gustafson’s review noted, for example, ‘For a film with an overtly feminist outlook, the movie has a disturbing and distinctly sexist subplot involving Judy’s commanding officer . . . it’s no surprise when Captain Lewis turns out to be a “bad guy” . . . Her problem: she’s sex-starved’ (Gustafson, 1980/81:  33). For Barbara Koenig Quart, Hawn ‘is only really toying with feminism while still being a kewpie doll’ (1988:  87). Tasker speaks of the film’s ‘somewhat diluted popular feminism’ (2011: 191), a turn of phrase adopted again by Glitre in her chapter on ‘Nancy Meyers and “Popular Feminism” ’ (2011), which again like Koenig Quart suggests a mode of feminism in play which is somehow not ‘feminism proper’ (whatever such a contested entity that might be). Koenig Quart is unreservedly damning of the film and Hawn in fact, bemoaning her ‘banal, cheap patriotism’ and ‘a kind of pop feminism that looks half the time like its opposite’ (1988: 89–90). Indeed, there were some criticisms too that the film dishonestly sidestepped any of the realities of what being in the US army actually meant and the purpose and practices of its working soldiers, in an era which had only just seen the end of the Vietnam War after all. For Gustafson, then, ‘the US Army couldn’t have made a better recruiting advertisement if it had written the script itself’ (1980/81:  33). Furthermore, for all the film’s claims to feminism, let us not forget that the entity that frees Judy from the shackles of patriarchy represented by her father and dead husband is the

61

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

61

patriarchal institution of the military – she merely swaps one ‘law of the father’ for another. The film’s humour can also of course be seen as a necessary sugar-coating to make its feminism more palatable. A  WarnerBros Inter-Office Memo dated 18 September 1980 detailing results from an ‘Audience Reaction Study’ undertaken in Denver the preceding month had noted under ‘Expectations’ that ‘males are particularly intrigued by the Army situation. Possible turnoffs were women’s lib’s overtones, not enough action for the men’ (Warner Bros, 1980, my emphasis). The studios would have been very mindful of this danger from the start, hence the trouble getting the project greenlit to begin with. But I share Merkin’s sense that, ‘the movie still has an unexpected bite to it almost 30 years later’ (Merkin, 2009), and one might speculate that it is in part because of this lasting ‘bite’ that a planned remake with Rebel Wilson is in development at the time of writing here. While, for example, the film may again use humour to attenuate some of the awfulness of Colonel Thornbush’s (Robert Webber) assault on Judy, in that she has to dramatically and comically leap out of a plane to escape his aggressive sexual advances, the film does not mince its words when Judy confronts him the next day and tells him blankly, as he tries to excuse what happened as an ‘indiscretion’, to instead ‘try rape’. Given ongoing cultural and legal prevarications about what constitutes ‘consent’, to find this film from 1980 so unequivocally calling out Thornbush’s behaviour in such unapologetic terms is striking indeed. Later, scenes of Judy’s work for the US army at SHAPE headquarters in Belgium chart how this once floundering woman has become an articulate, poised, knowledgeable professional, as she becomes the first instance of Meyers’s ‘woman-at-her-desk’, confidently commanding the attention of a meeting of senior military figures as she delivers a report. The ending too, though it provides no easy answers as to what Judy’s future entails, retains a delicious sense of bravado in its refusal to have its heroine take the traditional path. And thus, in the contradictions felt here, in the feminist-minded moments visible one moment and seemingly undercut by ‘cinematic clichés and social stereotypes’ the next (Gustafson, 1980/81: 32), in introducing the sense of discord and frustration that a Meyers movie can produce in doing all this at once, Private Benjamin set the stage for the disputes over Meyers’s filmmaking and its politics that were to

62

62

NANCY MEYERS

become all too familiar in the decades to come – a conflict which as we will see in the following chapters might be said to come with the territory when you are a woman practitioner, making films about women, in mainstream Hollywood.

Notes 1 This mix of sources provides both an intriguing and rich assemblage of materials, on the one hand, and might be deemed somewhat kaleidoscopic or fragmented, on the other. Nevertheless, the contents are significant as those which constitute ‘the archive’ on ‘the Shmeyers’ at this important institutional collection. This compilation of material thus serves a valuable purpose here, in tracing how this period and this narrative was, and can be, (re)constructed in the fashion outlined. 2 Other significant collaborators across just a couple of films, which nevertheless stand out for their important and consistent thematic presence in these works, include Alan Silvestri (music on The Parent Trap and What Women Want, who also worked on Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride Part II) and Beth Rubino (set decorator on Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated). 3 The couple also kept David Swift, the original screenwriter (and director) of The Parent Trap on the script credits of their remake alongside their own names. 4 Again, this historical Hollywood partnership was behind some of the industry’s most enduringly celebrated films including On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952). 5 Meyers has indicated that the making of I Love Trouble was an unhappy experience due to differences with Roberts. In addition, Nolte and Roberts were said to have detested working together, and perhaps this is all evident in the disappointing end product. Meyers recalls, ‘I Love Trouble I think never had a chance. We had a very unfortunate relationship with the star [Julia Roberts], and we were really unable to execute the script the way we saw it. So it was a very unusual situation for us. It was the only noncollaborative relationship we ever had with an actress, and as a result everybody got screwed. Nobody got to do their best work’ (Topel, 2006: 270). 6 In the same DVD commentary Meyers also seems to object to a later (inadvertently) overly sexualising detail of Marin’s costuming when she remarks of a scene between Marin and Erica at the house, in which the outline of Marin’s white bra is visible through her sheer pink shirt,

63

KEY COLL ABORATIVE REL ATIONSHIPS

63

that ‘I don’t like that you can see her bra through her shirt. I sort of went nuts when I got to the dailies because to my eye, I couldn’t see it. I was so mad they hadn’t put her in a nude bra’. 7 Alongside their shared experience of walking away from an imminent marriage, Benjamin and Meyers also importantly shared an upbringing in the Jewish faith, and this is another feature of Meyers’s background that one can find brought to bear in the detail of a number of her films, both those made with Shyer and subsequently. For example, in I Love Trouble, when Peter and Sabrina unexpectedly find themselves marrying in a Las Vegas wedding chapel, Peter dons a kippah or yarmulke; Ben and Fiona visit a funeral parlour for a shiva on their first date in The Intern; and Jewish Journal expanded the autobiographical comparison drawn by many observers between the heroine of Something’s Gotta Give (‘a no-nonsense Jewish playwright’) and its writer/director in commenting; ‘Meyers, for her part, shares attributes with the fictional Erica: The character is also a successful writer who calls her daughter “Bubbie” and peppers her speech with Yiddishisms’ (Pfefferman, 2003). 8 Furthermore, in this interview Meyers also noted, ‘I’m not very fond of what a lot of wives go through in their marriages. Especially when you’re a mother, you seem to establish these patterns. I’m adamant about being separate’ (Cherubin, 1985: B4).

64

65

2 Ways of Watching ‘The Romcom Queen’: Gender, Genre and Cultural Value

Postfeminist romantic comedy’s own conflict with feminism is a conflict with female sexual agency which is not directed towards heterosexual union . . . In postfeminist romantic comedy, while heterosexual activity and desire are lauded, in line with the pornographic sexual economy of contemporary culture, self-directed (narcissistic) female agency is not. (Bowler, 2013: 201) Lest we forget, writer-director Nancy Meyers [is] not one of cinema’s unflinching realists. With Meryl whipping up endless pies and chocolate croissants, not to mention a credit sequence entirely given over to terracotta roof tiles, this sex comedy for baby boomers feels like half movie, half deluxe spread in Good Housekeeping . . . [the] plot groans and creaks, and it’s padded out with needless scenes . . . But as an indulgent confection, it’s more filling and less embarrassing than we had any right to expect. (Robey [review of It’s Complicated, The Telegraph], 2010) ‘Nancy Meyers’ isn’t a real person. ‘Nancy Meyers’ is a robot invented by the studios as a cost-cutting measure to produce the most synthetic romantic comedies imaginable. (Tobias [review of The Holiday, The A. V. Club], 2006)

6

66

NANCY MEYERS

The extracts above underline how contemporary romcom enduringly suffers from one of the most suspect and critically derisive of reputations. It is held to be both creatively constrained – being predictable escapism tightly regulated by tired narrative and aesthetic conventions – and ideologically compromised – being part of popular culture’s hegemonic weaponry. In both instances, such readings suggest, it thereby schools audiences (and particularly women) in how to conform to highly gendered and heteronormative values and behaviours, often facilitated partly through a retrograde engagement with ‘feminism’, which is presented as having been ‘taken into account’ (McRobbie, 2007: 255). In sum, this position understands the genre as providing a kind of conservative training ground for what to aspire to in life and, in terms of the rules of successful dating at least, how to get it. At the same time, romcoms are understood as being unhelpfully, even harmfully, ‘unrealistic’. Some audience research by psychologists has maintained that ‘the influence of Hollywood films is instilling a warped sense of the “perfect” relationship within society and providing unrealistic expectations about romance . . . People feel if their relationship is not like a Hollywood film then it is not any good’ (Alleyne, 2008), in essence adding romantic comedy to the long tradition of ‘media effects’ debate which fears the media can negatively influence the behaviour of certain (inherently ‘vulnerable’) groups. Note, then, that Robey takes a sly dig at Meyers for somehow failing to be more ‘unflinchingly realist’ in her work, without any thought to the matter of generic verisimilitude, that is, how actually, within the textual world of romantic comedy, her films are basically true to key contours of the genre and thus to many of the expectations one might reasonably presume audiences have of it. And as Meyers herself has pointed out, ‘realism’, which is always inescapably subjective, can be engaged with and located in different ways and in different quarters of the film text. Discussing Something’s Gotta Give with regard to the judgemental reception of her films as escapist fantasies, and in relation to the extent to which her films draw on autobiographical experience, she has said: I’ve taken a lot of criticism for this kind of thing . . . to me, the emotional content is completely real . . . [my emphasis] I’ve gotten so much feedback, people telling me how they can relate to

67

WAYS OF WATCHING

67

it and what it has meant to them . . . so how much of a fantasy is it? I just dress it up a little bit. It is a movie. You know, it’s not a documentary about me. It’s a movie. (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010) Bemoaning Meyers for not being more overtly realist (whatever that would entail), then, would seem to be a bit like criticizing Michael Moore for not having enough meet-cutes1 in his work. Still, for all these reasons, even relatively passable reviews of romcom therefore frequently need to come with caveats – Robey actually awards It’s Complicated a respectable three stars in The Telegraph but nevertheless must note begrudgingly that the pleasures bestowed by it are more ‘than we had any right to expect’. In a similar vein elsewhere, admitting to a kind of reluctant enjoyment of Meyers, Manohla Dargis has said of Something’s Gotta Give, ‘I really like [it] but I don’t think it’s a good movie’ (Carmon, 2009a). Further, as Jeffers McDonald notes of the critical reception of the genre too, ‘there seems to be a prejudice against subjecting such fluffy trifles to intense critical scrutiny’ (2007: 15). Hence, as she points out (2007: 10) the use of a repeated motif which in other genres would be understood as adopting a ‘trope’ (for example, the troubled but intrepid loner-hero of the Western), in romantic comedy becomes dismissively identified as a reliance on clichés (for example, the couple who finally overcome their differences and fall in love). Given this landscape it is not difficult to see how Meyers’s close association with romcom has been central to her frequently lacklustre reputation in criticism and scholarship. Despite her success in securing serious studio financing, despite the calibre of the creative personnel who work in her films, despite her remarkable standing as a triple-hyphenate who is able to write, produce and direct her own projects; how could she be worthy of serious sustained attention when she makes romcoms?

The serious business of romantic comedy In this chapter I want to pick apart some of the numerous presumptions contained in the opening extracts above. First, how much substance is there to the depiction of romcom as so unimaginatively

68

68

NANCY MEYERS

generically prescriptive? Is it really the case that romantic comedy amounts to an audio-visual checklist of hackneyed, if sometimes diverting or affectionately drawn, precepts? And if so, is it the case that it does all this in service to a highly conservative and conventional moral script that supports the status quo? None of these presumptions or questions about romantic comedy can be removed from the orbit of gender, since romcom is overwhelmingly understood to be a ‘woman’s genre’.2 This gendering of the genre was not always so; classical Hollywood’s screwball comedies were understood to be made with men and women in mind and, in a not unrelated fact, enjoyed appreciative critical esteem as well as popular success. But over time in a culture which has posited that women are more interested in the world of emotions and more driven than men to seek out a lasting romantic and emotional attachment, romantic comedy has come to be presumed to be predominantly consumed by and hence largely marketed to/for women. Evidently related to this, the romcom is one of the few Hollywood genres where women characters and stars are reliably allowed to come to prominence, thus further bolstering the sense that it is ‘for women’, since Hollywood so struggles with the possibility that a woman-centred or female-protagonist led film could appeal to both sexes. This cultural, critical and industrial gendering of the genre (Jermyn, 2017) feeds its mediocre status, while it also stifles more nuanced consideration of the place of men in all this. As Jeffers McDonald notes, challenging the gendered framing of the genre: By assuming a largely female consumption of romantic comedies, scholars and critics alike disparage them, unconsciously or not . . . Like fashion, which has long been held in low critical esteem and whose scholars have to work hard to justify their interest, romantic comedies may suffer from the association with female consumers despite the fact that [these] films do not actually speak solely to female interests and desires but are aimed more inclusively at both genders. The myth of perfect love appeals to both sexes. (Jeffers McDonald, 2007: 16–17) That Meyers has been labelled ‘The Rom-Com Queen’ (cf. Babb, 2010; Jacobs, 2015) completes the romcom’s circulatory loop, in which gender, genre and cultural value converge, and in which not only can the low critical esteem bestowed on the genre prevail

69

WAYS OF WATCHING

69

because it is ‘for women’, but a woman filmmaker, who could rightly claim to be one of the most successful and enduring practitioners of her generation, can be sidelined because of her association with it. Where, or who, one might ask, is the directorial ‘King of Romantic Comedy’? A simple Google search suggests there isn’t one. How did Woody Allen, or Richard Curtis, or Andy Tennant bypass this moniker given their close association and success at different moments with the genre? First, with reference to Allen and Curtis at least, the answer is arguably because men are more readily and generously credited with doing something inventive or energizing with the genre, reviving it or taking it into new territories that somehow merit recognition, in a way the frivolous moniker ‘King of Romantic Comedy’ doesn’t do justice to. Second, it is because there is no comparable need to label them in quite this way, since, in contrast, to call a woman director ‘the Queen’ of anything is to remind audiences of the intriguing and notable fact of her gender (in a fashion which arguably hints too at her likely diva-ish tendencies), working in a profession where being a woman still counts as a novelty. Instead, the equivalent male term has been used in relation to performance, to speak of male actors – that is, men proving their ‘regal’ value to the genre in front of the camera not behind it (cf. it has been attached to Matthew McConaughey, Hugh Grant and Ryan Reynolds).3 It is not my intention, in what follows, to rehearse discussions of genre theory, which are widely available elsewhere, nor to give too much time over to charting the history of romantic comedy and definitions of romcom thereof. For Barry Keith Grant, ‘Put simply, genre movies are those commercial feature films which, through repetition and variation, tell familiar stories with familiar characters in familiar situations’ (2007:  1). Over time, scholarship has come increasingly to recognize how these spaces of the familiar do not therefore work as rigid parameters, as inflexible ‘formula’ that are relentlessly adhered to, rather examining how genre films are intrinsically hybrid (Jeffers McDonald, 2007: 8). But while theorists such as Rick Altman (1999), Steve Neale (2000) and Grant (2007) have provided invaluably fruitful and instructive accounts of the mechanisms and movement of genre, these have not given much thought to romcom. Across most of the academic writing amassed on film genre, romantic comedy has had short shrift indeed, next to Westerns, gangster movies, or (notwithstanding debates around

70

70

NANCY MEYERS

definition) film noir, for example – partly for being a mere sub-genre of ‘comedy’, but no doubt, too, lest the trivial reputation of romcom rub off on the study of genre (or on the author). Happily, of late, scholars including Jeffers McDonald (2007), Mortimer (2010), Grindon (2011), Kaklamanidou (2013) and particularly Deleyto (2009) have provided more expansive accounts of romcom than were available for many years in Film Studies. Still, it will be useful here for a moment to consider some of the working definitions of romantic comedy that have been proposed, before seeking to problematize some of the common presumptions that have adhered to it, and examining how Meyers has worked with the genre. As Claire Mortimer and others have pointed out, classifying a film as a romantic comedy is often more problematic than one might expect for what is thought to be by its very nature such an obvious genre, ‘as its main elements are present in most films. Romance and comedy, to a greater or lesser extent, can be found in many, or even most, genre films, being a standard source of narrative pleasure’ (2010: 3). For Mortimer, the romcom ‘certainly has a very distinctive structure: boy meets girl, various obstacles prevent them from being together, coincidences and complications ensue, ultimately leading to the couple’s realisation that they were meant to be together’ (2010:  4). However, not only does this definition bypass attention to the comedic (thus far it could well be a plot synopsis of tragic melodrama Love Story (1970), for example), Mortimer also goes on to maintain that ‘the narrative concludes with a happy ending, with the final union of the couple’ (ibid.). This is not necessarily borne out by certain post-classical films that are generally understood to be ‘romantic comedies’ even where they are qualified somewhat as being ‘edgy’, indie or otherwise innovative ones – most famously, the couple do not make it intact to the end of Annie Hall (1977), nor do they, more recently, in 500 Days of Summer (2009), for example. More flexibly, in her ‘master definition’ Jeffers McDonald both simplifies things by removing mention of ‘obstacles’ and brings the place of humour to the fore alongside love when she proposes that ‘a romantic comedy is a film which has as its central motor a quest for love, which portrays this quest in a light-hearted way and almost always to a successful conclusion’ (2007:  9). Elsewhere, scholars have traced the genre’s morphosis over time noting various cycles, clusters or subgenres, with Leger Grindon, for example, identifying nine, commencing with ‘The

71

WAYS OF WATCHING

71

Transition to Sound Cluster, 1930–33’ through to ‘The Grotesque and Ambivalent Cycle, 1997–Present’ (Grindon, 2011: 25–66); or have examined it in specific historical periods (Evans and Deleyto, 1998; Glitre, 2006; Abbott and Jermyn, 2009; Kaklamanidou, 2013); while others have looked at it in national and cultural contexts outside of Hollywood (Harrod, 2015). Despite the apparent multiplicity of possible approaches to romantic comedy which this body of work would seem to suggest romcom lends itself to, for Jeffers McDonald part of the difficulty for the genre in meriting more thoughtful consideration is its ‘seeming transparency’. Its films appear ‘so naked in [their] project to get their men and women together by the last reel that it seems pointless to look for further motive or intent. The genre’s simplicity thus deflects proper interrogation’ (2007: 15). But as a screenwriter, Meyers has described how delivering the seeming ‘simplicity’ of the genre is both deceptively difficult and an essential generic requirement, as she told the Writers Guild Foundation when discussing Something’s Gotta Give and, importantly too, noting the significance of the generically cognizant audience when writing romantic comedy: They take me a very long time. They look easy, it looks breezy, or like it all fell together . . . And the audience in this kind of movie knows people aren’t going to like each other and then they’re going to like each other. They come to the movie kind of expecting that. So the job is, how do you get there, without making the beats feel that the audience could write it with you while they’re watching the movie? (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010) Deleyto rightly identifies the delimitations wrought by ideological and aesthetic determinism in analysing genre, and it is in his work that one finds a mode of understanding romantic comedy that more fully embraces the fluid ways genres travel, and which frees romcom from the kind of myopia it has been shackled to. He observes: A circular argument has been more or less universally accepted whereby only those films that include certain conventions and a certain ‘conservative’ perspective on relationships are romantic comedies and, therefore, romantic comedies are the most conventional and conservative of all genres. If a film threatens to be mildly interesting in cinematic, narrative or ideological terms

72

72

NANCY MEYERS

then it cannot possibly be a romantic comedy. It is a very popular argument and one that manages to contain the genre within very strict and narrow parameters. (Deleyto, 2009: 3) He instead champions an idea of genre not ‘as groups of films but abstract systems formed by elements taken from many films’ (ibid.: 13). Analysis needs to move away from a thematic interest in ‘belonging and generic purity (or impurity)’ he contends, and concern itself more with ‘the actual workings of generic elements in films’ (ibid.). In doing so, Deleyto argues we may find ‘romantic comedy’ everywhere; he opens by maintaining that the synopsis of respected auteur Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998) underlines how it could be read as a regular romantic comedy as much as a smart crime movie. Similarly too, he finds Howard Hawks’s classic Western Rio Bravo (1959) cannot be best understood as ‘a Western’ alone when romantic comedy so informs the flirtation between Chance (John Wayne) and Feathers (Angie Dickinson), and indeed given the rest of Hawks’s oeuvre and the influence of his broader ‘comic worldview and his very personal perspective on the ideal heterosexual relationship’ (2009: 4). Furthermore, when such ‘boundary patrolling’ (Deleyto, 2009: 2) falls away, romcom is no longer compelled to ‘fit’ into such restricted, and readily derided, territory; ‘by limiting the genre’s role to the perpetuation of romantic love, obligatory monogamous heterosexuality and the always and forever, we have been performing an act of massive repression, similar to what we have been blaming the genre for’ (2009: 175–6). Meyers herself has indicated how she is attuned to a more flexible perspective on romcom than might be commonplace. In an ‘In the Screening Room’ feature for the DGA Quarterly, in which an invited director talks their way through a film that has been influential on them, Meyers chose Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), sharing that ‘she’s kept a paperback copy of the script beside her writing desk for some 20  years’ (Dawes, 2007: 54; see also Linden, 2004a). Despite the interviewer’s reservations that this frequently darkly configured love story could be considered a romantic comedy, Meyers insists it is; as Dawes recounts, ‘Given its frank and scathing view of sexual relations, I suggest that perhaps the biting comedy-drama is anti-romantic, but she will have none of it’ (Dawes, 2007: 54). Indeed, this is a film which features wide-scale marital infidelity and a romantic heroine who attempts

73

WAYS OF WATCHING

73

suicide, (perhaps informing the character of Erin (Judy Greer) in What Women Want). But Meyers counters this, instead picking out elements which she argues still signal ‘romantic comedy’, including the tonal shifts across the music in the opening sequence. How, then, might Meyers’s films merit a more textured consideration, when we try to move away from a default position that suggests all romcoms are obvious and merely reiterate the same tired and ideologically suspect manoeuvres? Looking here in detail at two of her romantic comedies, What Women Want and The Holiday, I  argue for the importance of ambivalence and ambiguity in Meyers’s romcoms, especially with regard to ‘happy endings’. In What Women Want, I am particularly interested in how alongside the formation of the couple the film engages a difficult, often uncomfortable, exploration of workplace sexism that is not neatly resolved by the film’s close, despite the genre’s reputation for shutting down discord. In The Holiday, Meyers here delivers her most self-consciously reflexive film since writing and producing Irreconcilable Differences, its referentiality becoming a quality that irritated many reviewers. It is a film that, engaging with some of the debates rehearsed above, draws the audience’s attention to the contrivances and conventions of popular film and of romantic comedy – even while utilizing them itself – at the same time again underlining and savouring Meyers’s familiar affection for the golden age of Hollywood. Importantly, I argue, in the process it gives the audience ‘permission’ to relish the (familiar, predictable) pleasures of romcom.

What Women Want: The workplace romance as witness to workplace sexism What Women Want was Meyers’s first romcom as director-producer, and indeed as disputed writer-director-producer, as well as her first project made without the collaboration of former partner Shyer (the two having split shortly prior to its making). Here she headed up a film which charts the ‘makeover’ of sexist advertising guru Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) who learns new empathy for women and evolves into a better human being (lover, father, colleague), having been miraculously gifted with the ability to hear women’s thoughts. Brought in to work on the film as a rewrite, Meyers was later denied

74

74

NANCY MEYERS

a screenplay credit as writer. This went to Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, another ‘couple who write’ who were known at this time for their work on the TV series The King of Queens (1998–2007) before also going on to pen the successful Jennifer Garner romcom, 13 Going on 30 (2004), and who maintained that the final script after Meyers’s input was still largely theirs. The Writers Guild arbitrated the case, and despite Meyers’s insistence that her contribution merited recognition, the did not find in her favour (though giving a ‘story’ credit also to Diane Drake) (Sean Mitchell, 2000). Nevertheless, she has continued to speak of it as a script that must be understood as hers and that she was heavily invested in, saying of it in an interview as recently as 2015 that ‘I got to say a lot about what I was going through in my life. There are speeches and nuances that were pretty much what was going on with me’ (Larocca, 2015: 35).4 This personal resonance can be felt in the film when Darcy (Nick’s new and much-resented boss played by Helen Hunt) tells Nick of how at sea she feels, finding herself in a new job on her own following divorce from a partner she had also once worked alongside as a colleague. As Meyers said on its release, ‘Darcy and I have different jobs and we’re different ages . . . but I think we’re both up against the world in how we’re perceived. We’re both going out on our own to accomplish something in our new jobs’ (Schweiger, 2000/2001: 28). An LA Times interview elaborated further: In ‘What Women Want,’ the scenes of Gibson and Hunt growing closer while they collaborate on a proposed Nike ad are very much taken from her own experience, Meyers says. ‘All that stuff, that’s personal. I  think it’s very romantic to collaborate with somebody. You know, you’re working late at night, just the two of you, coming up with things together, getting off on each other that way, amusing each other and liking each other’s ideas. You can tell that he’s turned on by the way she thinks.’ (Sean Mitchell, 2000) Furthermore, connecting here again in conscious ways with Hollywood and generic history, as she had when working as part of ‘the Shmeyers’, the film was understood by some as paying homage both to the ‘30s and 40s battle-of-the-sexes star vehicles’ (Goodridge, 2000; see also Sean Mitchell, 2000; Landesman, 2001:  11)  and to the sex-comedies of the 1960s as ‘an update

75

WAYS OF WATCHING

75

of the Rock Hudson-Doris Day’ movies (Elvis Mitchell, 2000; see also Orr, 2001). And while the soundtrack contains modern ‘girl-power’ music in the form of Meredith Brooks’s ‘Bitch’ and Christina Aguilera’s ‘What a Girl Wants’, the film’s heavy sense of nostalgia for the ‘cool’ of the recent past is underscored musically by Meyers’s fondness for period tracks from the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin and Sammy Davis Jr. Here the music unambiguously underlines her guiding vision of place and tenor, in which ‘Nancy’s conception was that [Nick’s] apartment would be this ’60s Rat Pack kind of place’ (Paramount Pictures, 2000), and Nick is a smooth, old-school ‘ladies’ man’, who grew up in Vegas with a showgirl mother, and who will inevitably come unstuck in the new millennium. Indeed, the mise-en-scène of Nick’s apartment nicely echoes elements of the quintessential ‘bachelor pad’ aesthetic as described by Lauren Jade Thompson in her account of a number of ‘romantic sex comedies’ made in the 2000s immediately following What Women Want, a term she adopts ‘to position these films within a history of romantic comedy, in particular recalling the battle-of-the-sexes comedies of the late 1950s/early 1960s’ (2013: 152). She notes how ‘presented to the audience as an aspirational space, there is remarkable consistency in the design scheme of the bachelor pad . . . open-plan apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden floors, sleek stainless steel kitchens, grey colour schemes and exposed brickwork’ (2013: 157). In her characteristic attention to the minutiae of mise-en-scène, Meyers also included accents of orange across Nick’s apartment and office, specifically because she had read that orange was Frank Sinatra’s favourite colour (Paramount Pictures, 2000; Ryan, 2015), a detail which couldn’t possibly be meaningful to the audience but which she believed helped enrich Gibson’s sense of Nick, with splashes of blue incorporated too to echo Mel Gibson’s blue eyes (Bayou, 2013).5 But the striking use of floorto-ceiling windows and expanse of glass and reflective surfaces throughout his Chicago high-rise, which was designed to be ‘a sleek, modern, angular and exceptionally male lair, inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s landmark West Diversity Parkway complex in Chicago’ (Paramount Pictures, 2000), chimes with Thompson’s account of the romantic sex comedy’s masculine space as ‘letting the public, urban city into the home and putting the apartment on display’ (in one sequence, it even becomes a ‘stage’ for Nick as

76

76

NANCY MEYERS

he performs a lengthy dance routine to Sinatra’s ‘I Won’t Dance’). On another more contemporaneous note, comparisons to Nora Ephron were quite commonly made by critics also (see, for example, Goodridge, 2000; Howe, 2000; Morris, 2000; O’Sullivan, 2001). In the process, this connection indicated not only the generic continuities across some of Meyers’s and Ephron’s work, but the fact that there are precious few women directors working in Hollywood to compare to one another, and how readily these two were both tied to romcom. Still, despite its phenomenal success ‘[marking] the best December opening in box office history’ at that time (Di Orio, 2000: 1) and a warm reception in some quarters, a good number of reviews meeting What Women Want expressed serious reservations about it, indeed sometimes dished out damning criticism of it. This was particularly in regard to what was perceived by these irked reviewers as its crude account of gender differences, such that it was accused of trading in objectionable stereotypes; its depiction of women as hyper-consumers with little critical capacity, and the sometimes seemingly indiscriminating humour it found in Nick’s exploitative scheming, resulting in what some saw as an ‘aggressively offensive’ comedy (Zacharek, 2000). Through the film’s central conceit, in which Nick magically

FIGURE 2.1 What (Wo)Men Want: Nick (Mel Gibson) dances to Sinatra in his bachelor pad against the Chicago skyline.

7

WAYS OF WATCHING

77

attains the ability to hear what women are really thinking, he is able to engineer a sexual encounter with fragile coffee-shop assistant and aspiring actress Lola (Marisa Tomei), to manipulate and sabotage Darcy who to his chagrin just got the creative director job he thought was his, and take advantage of many other women around him (though more positively he also uses it to reconnect with his teenage daughter and to ‘save’ Erin, a vulnerable, lowly office filing clerk who has begun to harbour suicidal feelings). Uncannily attaining his ‘gift’ after he is electrocuted road-testing a box of women’s products one evening in order to better understand how to market them, he proceeds to exploit this unexpected new insight shamelessly. Hence for Time Out the film was ‘reductionist claptrap’ (Anon, 2000), while Wesley Morris decried the film’s ‘corporation-whipped, cynical and creepy exercise in manipulation’, in which Nick initially has the makings of ‘a misogynist madman’ (2000). Nevertheless, it was perhaps this very promise of a male perspective on women’s inner lives, and an engagement with a frequently machismo, straight male outlook on sex and romance,6 that meant What Women Want reached out to male audiences in a manner and to a degree unusual for the romcom in these ‘pre-homme-com’ (Jeffers McDonald, 2009) and pre-Judd Apatow years. The film’s more readily cross-gendered appeal would at least in part account for the outstanding box office performance it garnered as a film in the romcom genre. Noting, as numerous reviewers did, that the film tapped into the zeitgeist’s preoccupation with self-help and dating manuals espousing that men and women must recognize and work around their essential differences, the Washington Post believed the film would ‘appeal to Martians and Venusians in the audience’ (Howe, 2000) (an unambiguous reference to John Gray’s best-selling Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus adopted directly in the film itself (1992)); while Variety presciently observed the movie was ‘a near-perfect example of a film with heavy appeal to women that men will be willing to go along to as well, a formula that spells heavy B.O.’ (McCarthy, 2000). Unlike the majority of reviewers, as we have seen, Wiggers (2010) has argued (like Meyers herself (Larocca, 2015)) that Meyers’s films are generally watched by and appeal readily to both men and women. He suggests that the breadth of her appeal to both sexes is underlined by her consistent commercial success. This reach certainly seems to have been attained by What Women Want given

78

78

NANCY MEYERS

the numbers – $374m at the worldwide Box Office according to boxofficemojo.com – potentially indicating a cross-gendered appeal which Wiggers would assert is characteristic of her oeuvre as a whole. Unlike more recent ‘millennial women’s blockbusters’ (York, 2010), such as Mamma Mia! or Sex and the City (2008), What Women Want didn’t achieve this box office result through energetic branding as a ‘girls’ night out’, nor is there a sense that it was propelled to its success through groups of women attending screenings together and then often returning for repeat viewings. The film’s key original poster and the ‘narrative image’ (Ellis, 1982) contained therein speak volumes in this respect.7 The tagline – ‘He has the power to hear everything women are thinking . . . finally, a man is listening’ – ostensibly gives a wry and empathetic nod to women’s frustration that men ‘switch off’ when they speak (Zacharek comments the ‘film is being marketed toward women [but] it does nothing but condescend to them’ (2000)). Yet in proclaiming this – ‘He has the power to hear everything women are thinking . . . finally, a man is listening’ (my emphasis) - it actually foregrounds Nick’s experiential dominion, rather than, for example, pivoting on some version of ‘finally, a woman is being heard’. This is bolstered visually by the fact that though the poster focuses on both stars’ faces, Gibson’s takes up more proportional space and is more centrally positioned. Crucially too, he looks out from the image to ‘make eye contact’ and smile directly at the spectator, while Hunt’s face is pressed to Gibson’s and her eyes averted to gaze down, making her appear the rather more abstracted of the pair (see also Glitre, 2011: 19).8 The primary character of interest and the major star here the poster seems to suggest, promoting a film in the only generic space in Hollywood alongside ‘chick flicks’ said to privilege female subjectivity, is Mel Gibson (who also has top billing). And let us not forget either that the baffled question behind the film’s title – ‘What does woman want?’ – was posed by a man, being the bewildering puzzle that eluded Sigmund Freud to the end. But at the same time, alongside its seemingly more pointed appeal to male audiences, and in addition to its fantastical elements and familiar generic play with a ‘they-shouldn’t-but-they-will’ romantic plotline, What Women Want also delivers a thoughtful and frequently unsettling denunciation of the unpleasant business of gendered office politics, one which is regularly attuned to foregrounding women’s experiences. The film serves to expose Nick’s

79

WAYS OF WATCHING

79

unscrupulous machinations as he repeatedly steals Darcy’s ideas, his discomforting resentment towards the fact of having a female boss, and his calculated destruction of Darcy’s professional standing (‘I hear she is a bitch on wheels’) despite his ‘charming’ manner. All of this speaks to the widely shared complaint made by women that they are recurrently stymied in the workplace by aggrieved male colleagues, and that their proposals and initiatives are frequently passed over only to be embraced later when voiced by a man – the kind of ‘everyday sexism’ that can actually be nigh on impossible to pinpoint and substantiate as women get squeezed out of the top ranks. Mary Beard has written and spoken eloquently on this theme in a lecture for the London Review of Books, in which she opens with reference to Telemachus, the son of Penelope and Odysseus, who seeks to silence his mother in The Odyssey: When [Telemachus] says ‘speech’ is ‘men’s business’, the word is muthos – not in the sense that it has come down to us of ‘myth’. In Homeric Greek it signals authoritative public speech (not the kind of chatting, prattling or gossip that anyone  – women included, or especially women – could do). What interests me is the relationship between that classic Homeric moment of silencing a woman and some of the ways women’s voices are not publicly heard in our own contemporary culture, and in our own politics from the front bench to the shop floor. It’s a well-known deafness that’s nicely parodied in the old Punch cartoon: ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.’[3] (Beard, 2014: 11) What also interests me here in Beard’s account is her description of the kind of speech that women are more typically associated with  – ‘chatting, prattling or gossip’  – since What Women Want was criticized by some commentators precisely because Nick’s power recurrently reveals this to be entirely the kind of essentialist ‘mindless’ babbling that occupies women’s minds, ‘an unbearable cacophony of prattle about calorie-counting and makeup colors’, as Zacharek put it (2000; see also Landesman, 2001: 11; Foundas, 2006: 98). Thus here again, then, we see the push-pull tension at work in Hollywood’s representational politics, in which the film

80

80

NANCY MEYERS

seems, on the one hand, to trade in hackneyed gendered stereotypes and, on the other, to boldly critique gendered workplace inequities, by no means exclusively fostering a simplistic and conservative monovision as is so typically attributed to romantic comedy. Alongside the array of women seemingly preoccupied by consumerist superficialities, there is the contradictory figure of Darcy, a professional woman breaking through ‘the glass ceiling’ who through her profession feeds these very aspirations. Furthermore, though she might begin as a figurehead of the millennium’s new female authority, Nick’s power quickly renders her vulnerable, as we and he learn from her private thoughts how terribly lost she feels (‘I’m glad you’re here, I’m stuck and I feel so alone’). For Orr, then, she ultimately becomes ‘an empty caricature of a lonely success’ (2001). At the same time, though, she again memorably fulfils Meyers’s desiring/desirable image of ‘the woman at her desk’  – a talented and admired career woman, who is passionate about what she does and sees work as a central and fulfilling constituent of her identity, who is a rising star in her field of business, who does, at least initially, command space and the right to speak – and who again here, like J. C. Wiatt in Baby Boom before her, is pitched against a hostile professional environment geared towards men that will not willingly accommodate her, as Nick makes patently clear when he behaves like a recalcitrant schoolboy during her first meeting with her team. When Nick wins the new Nike women’s division account by presenting Darcy’s ‘No games, just sports’ concept as his own, Darcy is sacked for underperforming, while Nick gets away with playing exactly the kind of masculine egotistical ‘game’ her tagline pivots on. It is not difficult, then, to position What Women Want as a film marked by a kind of unevenness, even uneasiness. Lighthearted ‘banter’ veers into evidently calculated maltreatment; a female protagonist, clearly in the vein of the eloquent classical Hollywood career women Meyers so admires, seems to be built up in order to be systematically demolished, echoing too the Doris Day ‘independent woman’ of the 1960s comedies who needs a little ‘taming’. Discordances in the narrative and overall tenor of this ‘workplace romance’ foster a fluid set of divergent and even oppositional readings, rather than the resolutely conservative and predictable ones so readily ascribed to romantic comedy. What Women Want remains a generic romantic comedy in very many ways, and yet it constructs

81

WAYS OF WATCHING

81

a hero so objectionable at times (territorially slapping his cleaningwoman on the ass, sharing a crass sexist joke at work, publically censuring a ‘curvy’ female colleague for her food choices, callously dumping conquest Lola after perfecting his sexual techniques on/ with her) that it struggles to convincingly redeem him by the end. But there is nothing to say that this is what the film entirely, or even principally, seeks to do. Rather, there are plenty of instances that account for why, as Nick learns to his horror, ‘almost every woman I know thinks I’m an asshole’. And it is partly the dissonance prompted by this  – a lasting awkwardness where one may quite readily despise the (contemptible) ‘romantic hero’, as we learn so many women do, even by the finale – that raises intriguing questions here regarding whether Meyers may indeed be more than ‘a robot invented by the studios’ (Tobias, 2006) to create entirely safe, homogenous and reactionary (generic romcom) fare.

Revisiting the romcom’s ‘happy ending’ To explore this further, I want here to think in more detail about the conclusion of – or rather the potential to find a certain intriguing inconclusiveness in  – What Women Want. In underlining the importance of this arena to many theoretical approaches to film, James MacDowell’s work on ‘happy endings’ in Hollywood is invaluable here. As he points out in the opening to his 2013 book on the subject, ‘The Hollywood “happy ending” is among the most over-utilized and under-analysed concepts in discussions of popular cinema’ (2013: 1). In the process of its being unthinkingly drawn on as self-evident for so many years, ‘the happy ending’ has become allied with a number of presuppositions that warrant far greater scrutiny, he suggests, including: first, ‘that it is a ubiquitous feature of Hollywood cinema’ and thus stands for so much that is believed to be wrong with Hollywood cinema (ibid.); further, and linked to this last point, ‘that it is inherently ideologically conservative’ (2013: 3); and additionally, in most instances ‘that the “happy ending” requires a “united romantic couple” ’ (2013:  11), or at least the formulation of a final couple is the foremost convention of ‘the happy ending’ and thus crystallizes all the problems believed to be inherent in it. Taking all this apart, MacDowell makes the case for a comprehensive reconsideration of the concept, demonstrating

82

82

NANCY MEYERS

instead the very many variations and complexities that exist across what has been seen as the monolithic and simplistic terrain of ‘the happy ending’. Given the emphasis on the formation of the final couple as the key signifying marker of ‘the happy ending’, all this has particularly far-reaching repercussions for criticism of romantic comedy, which is still so widely understood to be driven above all else by the requirement to form a couple by its close. Furthermore, conceptually it aligns with the important work done by Deleyto (2009) as already outlined, who argues further that there has been a highly problematic ‘excessive concentration’ on the happy ending in romantic comedy, but that ‘if we accept that there are other dimensions to the genre apart from the happy ending then the recognition of much greater formal and ideological variety will immediately ensue’ (2009:  24). As he notes, the prevailing critical perspective has it that not only is romantic comedy about love and marriage but it always says the same thing about it, it invariably conveys the same conservative message:  if the most important convention of the genre is the happy ending and this happy ending usually consists in the consolidation (or at least the more or less certain promise of consolidation) of a monogamous (and hence patriarchal) heterosexual couple, then it follows that the genre as a whole is conservative because it naturalises, celebrates and reinforces marriage, monogamy and heterosexuality, even against the hard evidence found in contemporary western societies where heterosexual monogamy is in permanent crisis and has become only one option among many others. (Deleyto, 2009: 25) The result of the ‘wholesale capitulation’ to such an outlook has been ‘to homogenise the genre and impoverish individual texts’ (ibid.), rather than to acknowledge and explore the many instances where something rather more complex is happening. So, how might one bring all this to bear on What Women Want? In order to answer this, let us pause to remember the detail of the ending. After Nick has spent time getting close to Darcy and stealing her ideas, she is fired just as he acknowledges to himself that he has fallen for her and acted appallingly, and he resolves to make amends, admit to his wrongdoings and tell her how he feels. All the trappings of a romcom finale are present in the final sequence – the

83

WAYS OF WATCHING

83

impulsive race across town to her apartment to declare his love before she leaves and he loses her forever, the flowery music and dialogue (‘You dazzled me, I  mean shook-my-world-changed-mylife dazzled me’), the confusion, relief, reconciliation, and declarations of love  – as Nick renders himself vulnerable, confesses that he sabotaged her and ‘took advantage of her in the worst possible way’, before proclaiming his realization that he, not she, is the one that needs to be rescued. Further, through this trajectory the film enacts a very familiar, essentialist romcom narrative where the male protagonist must ‘learn’ greater emotional intelligence from the more romantically ready woman before truly entering adult maturity. Darcy is horrified by his admission. Then, utterly deflating his grand gesture, she begins to speak: ‘I was thinking that . . . if everything you’re saying is true . . . if I really have my job back . . . then, I think you’re fired’. The delayed final reconciliation as seen here is another familiar motif of these scenes in romcom. And yet this moment, this refusal of the romantic climax, jolts one. Darcy coolly takes back her authority for an instant – she is not merely dumping him, she is firing him – reminding him and us of her ‘superiority’ here at one level at least, in what might be taken to be one of Meyers’s feminist-minded moments. It is fleeting, though. Nick is shocked, crushed, he haltingly begins to walk away, and Darcy merely looks back at him blankly. But, naturally, as he finally goes to leave, she realizes she feels the same and goes after him, asking ‘What kind of knight in shining armour would I be if the man I love needs rescuing and I  just let him walk out my door?’. So far, so seemingly familiar, even despite the ‘modern’ gendered inversion of the terrain of knights, damsels and rescue (which in fact would also feel familiar to romcom fans from Pretty Woman (1990) where at the ending Vivian (Julia Roberts) promises Edward (Richard Gere) to ‘rescue him right back’). Yet, for a director known for her sumptuous interiors, it is striking that, while the scene is lit with a gentle kind of clarity and colour design that works in particular to flatter leading-lady Hunt, the mise-en-scène here is surprisingly, unusually, blank, even if entirely motivated (Darcy has only just taken ownership of the empty property). Both the lighting and golden neutral tones of the interior work to complement Darcy in a manner common to the ‘Meyers-esque heroine’, who is costumed again in block pastel and light colours at the finale, as she is on a number of occasions in the

84

84

NANCY MEYERS

film. Dressed casually here in creams and whites (a palette regularly drawn on by Meyers for her women protagonists that speaks again of their class privilege), this colour ensemble when combined with Hunt’s fair, blonde hair seem to make her virtually shine at times, particularly seeming to emphasize the ‘whiteness’ of Hunt’s star image. In the director’s DVD commentary, Meyers observes how at the end ‘everything is stripped away’ in Darcy’s unfinished apartment, a remark which perfectly captures the sense of flatness to all the proceedings. Indeed, interestingly Meyers also notes in her commentary that the production budget had run out by this time so that they couldn’t build a full staircase for the scene, having only the illusion of the top of a stairwell on a set, and this sense of ‘incompleteness’ somehow informs the whole sequence. Indeed, I would argue it is entirely possible to read this climax in a manner akin to what has become known as Douglas Sirk’s penchant for the ‘false happy end’, in which the celebrated director of lavish Hollywood melodramas sometimes formulated arbitrary ‘happy endings’ that might be read as self-consciously artificial or otherwise unconvincing, thus drawing attention to the conflicts in his narratives and refusing to embed comfortable reassurance that all will be well after the closing frames come to pass. Admittedly, moments after Darcy rejects Nick she will go after him, will kiss him, will be held by him as the credits roll, the final frames delivering what is understood to be the quintessentially romantic Hollywood image of heterosexual union. Yet it feels contrived, even where all such images might be thought to feel ‘contrived’ given, as MacDowell notes, the presumption of their inclusion as the most readily familiar signifier of ‘the happy ending’, and the ubiquity of what David Bordwell has called ‘the clinch’ at the ending of classical Hollywood films (cited in MacDowell, 2013: 2). It is almost as if the film ‘really’ ended, and ended more satisfyingly, when she fired him. While Darcy does go and ‘rescue him’ as he hoped she would, much hangs unresolved in the air – can they possibly work together, be romantically together, after this? As Wiggers notes, it remains uncertain how the pair can continue ‘beyond the final frame’ (2011:  71; see also Alpert, 2012). ‘My hero,’ declares Nick as they embrace, prefiguring the genderreversal that Harry will also experience in Something’s Gotta Give when, surprised to find himself at the end with a broken heart, he observes, ‘Guess who finally gets to be the girl?’ However, their

85

WAYS OF WATCHING

85

FIGURE 2.2 The couple in crisis in the ‘stripped away’ climax to What Women Want.

kiss doesn’t seem to settle the disquieting tensions that his devious behaviour rendered throughout, such that Nick was never ‘just’ a charming, harmless cad but something arguably verging on the sinister at times. Certain of the film’s reviewers also pointed to this odd sensation left by the ending:  Todd McCarthy notes how ‘the film doesn’t know what to do other than come in for a very soft landing and putter to an indifferent stop’ (2000); Desson Howe observes there are ‘some weird loose ends’ (2000); while for Charlotte O’Sullivan the film offers ‘a bizarre treatise of the horrors of work, sex and identity’ in which ‘in its last reel [it] grows even more juicily strange’ (2001). For Deborah Orr, the marker of the film’s failure to ‘quite cut the mustard’ is the fact that at the end ‘there’s no lump in the female throat when the credits start to roll’ (2001:  n.p.). Conversely, Glitre finds the film’s ‘rehabilitation of heterosexual romance’ by the finale to be unambiguous, and suggests the final shots’ framing and performance ‘emphasise Nick’s “natural” male dominance’ (2011: 24). But for at least some audience members, it is arguably difficult to escape a certain anti-climactic irresolution here, a certain vacillation in the ending that makes one wonder as to the viability of this match; the emotions feel as unfinished, the ‘closure’ as illusory, as the half-built set. All this is not to say that

86

86

NANCY MEYERS

one can’t or won’t find ‘a happy ending’ at the conclusion of What Women Want; but rather that these exist on a far more nuanced spectrum than is often recognized. As MacDowell notes, there is a tradition in Film Studies of analysing the operation of ‘implausible happy endings’ undertaken by ‘critics desiring to praise a filmmaker’s artistic integrity’ and ‘recoup what might at first seem to be an uninspiringly traditional conclusion’ (2013:  6). At one level, this reading of What Women Want might be situated within such a tradition, constituting a familiar strategical move, as I  seek to make a larger case for a more textured grasp of Meyers’s filmmaking. But outside of this, and while it is important to state that it is not ‘necessary’ or inevitable that one reads the film in the ways outlined above, I am also suggesting that the ending here merely crystallizes a certain sense of ambivalence about its romantic project that might be found to quietly inhabit the whole film; and indeed, that all Meyers’s films, perhaps with the exception of Something’s Gotta Give, arguably have ‘happy endings’ that are interesting for the haziness that surrounds the viability of the romantic matches and resolutions they pose at one level. How will Nick Parker and Elizabeth James in The Parent Trap actually build a life together and for the twin daughters they – bewilderingly – kept apart for over a decade, given they have each established their own businesses, families and homes on either side of the Atlantic? How can Jules forgive Matt (Anders Holm) his betrayal in The Intern and move on happily with him in the knowledge that he was unfaithful to her when she most needed his support? It is not that these films don’t offer the audience the possibility of finding ‘a happy ending’ – further, the texts do not explicitly encourage audiences to fret over their irresolute matters at any length. But neither do they try to delineate any answers or reassure the viewer who might be perplexed regarding how the seeming impasses reached at their endings can be sustained or maintained, given all that the audience knows. In the final moments of The Parent Trap, Elizabeth does voice some of the misgivings the audience may have about her reuniting with Nick after he follows her back to London. Here Meyers seems to explicitly challenge the presumed simplicity of ‘happy endings’, rather than merely try to deliver one, when Elizabeth tells him, ‘I suppose you just expect me to go weak at the knees and fall into your arms and cry hysterically and say we’ll just

87

WAYS OF WATCHING

87

figure this whole thing out, a bi-continental relationship with our daughters being raised here and there and you and I  just picking up where we left off and . . . growing old together . . . and . . . come on Nick, what do you expect, to live happily ever after?’ ‘Yes, to all the above,’ he replies, and she quickly capitulates as the deal is sealed with a kiss that at one level at least seems to sweep all her hesitations away. The credits roll, and a montage capturing their re-marriage echoing the scenes of their first marriage aboard the QEII ocean liner seen at the start unfolds. Fleeting as it is, though, Elizabeth’s cynicism voices those niggles the audience might have.9 The romcom is a genre in which it is expected that love will transcend inconvenient practicalities. But within this there are degrees of gravity, in which having an affair while one’s partner struggles to keep her business intact and support her family, or the fact of having deliberately conspired to have two separated siblings wrongly believe they are only children with a single parent bringing them up on different continents in ignorance of their true family circumstances, are in different ways fairly momentous. MacDowell notes, ‘The model of the implausible “happy ending” has [been] used to defend “happy endings” in the movies of many auteurs, from Preston Sturges (Durgnat, 1969:  169), through Alfred Hitchcock (Sterrit, 1993:  24), to Kathryn Bigelow (Schneider, 2003:  87)’ (2013: 6). But since Meyers has not been admitted to the worthy auteur canon, and since contemporary romantic comedy remains so overwhelmingly critically positioned as inextricably tied to a simplistic model of storytelling, her films have not been bestowed with the capacity to ‘manage’ happy endings in a critically conscious or otherwise complex way. Polysemy inhabits all texts, of course. But as noted in the Introduction, in Meyers’s films this potential is particularly loaded, and the absence of attention to it is particularly deleterious to her reputation, because of the manner in which she is recurrently situated as merely a remarkably formulaic manufacturer of (conservative, predictable, trite) genre fodder. As acknowledged, the case for ostensive evidence of a less than progressive politics, and a take on feminism that operates outside of any apparent awareness of intersectionality, can undoubtedly be made in relation to Meyers’s work. In What Women Want, for example, one particular moment stands out as seeming reductive, patronizing and damning of ‘ordinary’ women, who occupy quite a different realm to the high-achieving,

8

88

NANCY MEYERS

privileged, tastefully-groomed, typically normatively attractive heroines that generally people Meyers’s world and who are championed by her. Arriving in his office while still adapting to his new powers, Nick is met by his two slightly bumbling, doting, older female secretarial assistants, whose bodies, voices, clothes and jobs mark them as emanating from a more working-class world, one that Meyers’s films do not seek to engage with. He listens out for their thoughts, and hears nothing. Perhaps this can be read as suggesting these women are without guile, malice or agenda. But clearly another oddly and needlessly cruel implication is that these women are, quite literally, empty-headed – a pair of airheads, one might say. As is standard with Meyers too, the only people of colour to feature in the film are minor characters in service jobs supporting white characters/stars, being his exasperated Latina cleaning lady Stella (Diana-Maria Riva) and Flo, his African American doorwoman (Loretta Devine) (both at least here getting some dialogue and an actual character name, unlike the ‘Old woman in Chinatown’ listed on IMDB who helps Nick with directions at the end, or the ‘Nightclub Singer’ seen fleetingly performing in a bar that Darcy and Nick visit). Furthermore, as a star who figures a particular kind of working-class Italian American ethnicity, in this respect it is interesting that Marisa Tomei is cast as the eminently disposable Lola. In The Holiday too, a resolutely white world unfolds where success, both materialistically and romantically, is configured as white. This landscape is conjured in an unblinking manner, where here again people of colour are just the whirr in the background that keeps these high-achieving white worlds oiled (appearing fleetingly as the gardener, the maid and so on). Are Meyers’s films, and the issues they explore, nevertheless received as ‘relatable’ (Leonis, 2015) beyond their white privilege? Indeed, do they here echo again the traditions of the 1930s and 1940s relationship comedies she so admires, where affluent white protagonists moving among even more glittering backdrops came as standard, in films that remain revered today? (though importantly, engaging working-class foils too often featured alongside these high-class characters). For Dana Stevens watching The Holiday, material success and the idea(l) of whiteness collapse into one another: ‘Everything has a bourgeois glaze of consumer pleasantness around it – those scholars struggling to define what “whiteness” means should look at some Nancy Meyers movies’

89

WAYS OF WATCHING

89

(Stevens, 2006). Far from keeping people of colour at the margins of material and romantic success, these films keep them resolutely outside those margins; that is, as a non-presence in the aspirations that Meyers nevertheless evidently feels to be by their nature ‘everyone’s’. As with the very large majority of mainstream Hollywood romcoms that only employ white stars, the end result is that a theme constructed as being at the heart of who ‘we’ are, of what humanity is  – romantic love, and the quest to secure it  – is actually constructed as a white concern. While, as Karen Bowdre explores, an industry of ‘Black cast romcoms’ (2009:  105)  exists in parallel to the white ones that are constructed as the genre’s mainstream incarnation, these ‘do not adhere to many of the conventions that audiences have come to expect of the genre’ (2009: 106). Thus, While it can be argued that the love presented in neo-traditional rom-coms of the past two decades is a fairytale that is not realistic, it is also culturally revered, an aspiration many hope to achieve. If this dream is only offered onscreen to those who are white – and most of the world’s population is not white – this dream evidently needs to be expanded (Bowdre, 2009: 116). Still, what is not sufficiently recognized alongside such deeply and inescapably problematic features in Meyers’s work is how her capacity to appeal to what might at best be called some retrograde or conservative impulses more challengingly exists sometimes alongside other also significant flashes of social critique, be this quite overtly or more cautiously perceptible in her feminist-minded moments. In these instances she uses genre and comedy to deliver some astute cultural commentary – perhaps most memorably Zoe’s (Frances McDormand) rousing speech in Something’s Gotta Give against how ‘the over-50s dating scene’ annihilates older women (examined in detail in Chapter  4), or Jane’s discomfort at having Jake see her ageing naked body after sex in It’s Complicated. These foster ambivalent or unsettlingly discordant moments and questions, such as those pointed to above in What Women Want, which perturb wholeheartedly conventional readings of her work. Of course, she is not unique in doing this, nor is this the first time it has been remarked that mainstream Hollywood accommodates such shape-shifting. Rather, the productive ways in which she does

90

90

NANCY MEYERS

this have been given scant acknowledgement or consideration by critics, and romcom is repeatedly critically denied the capacity for such texture and ambiguity.

The Holiday: A love affair with romcom I have found almost everything ever written about love to be true. Shakespeare said, ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting’. [Sighs]. What an extraordinary thought. Personally I  have not experienced anything remotely close to that, but I’m more than willing to believe Shakespeare had. I suppose I think about love more than anyone really should. I’m constantly amazed by its sheer power to alter and define our lives. It was Shakespeare who also said, ‘Love is blind’. Now that is something I know to be true. For some, quite inexplicably, love fades. For others, love is simply lost. But then of course, love can also be found, even if just for the night. And then there’s another kind of love, the cruelest kind, the one that almost kills its victims – it’s called unrequited love. Of that I am an expert. Most love stories are about people who fall in love with each other. But what about the rest of us? What about our stories? Those of us who fall in love alone? We are the victims of the one-sided affair . . . we are the unloved ones . . . Yes, you are looking at one such individual. And I have willingly loved that man for over three miserable years . . . these years that I have been in love have been the darkest days of my life. (Iris, The Holiday) So commences the voiceover to the start of The Holiday, the motif of the transitory opening narration constituting an introductory flourish continually favoured by Meyers, and delivered here by Iris (Kate Winslet), one of the film’s four key protagonists, who will form one-half of one of its two yet-to-be-founded couples. One would struggle to find a more self-conscious preamble to the romcom genre, this being a prelude that lays out the territory that romantic comedy both regularly treads and typically evades, for the viewer who doubtless already knows. Love is all-consuming, all transforming – it ‘alters and defines our lives’. And the love stories that the genre most habitually focuses on entail the formation of a couple, that is, ‘people who fall in love with each other’. But there is

91

WAYS OF WATCHING

91

a ‘dark’ side to love too. Love wounds, love hurts, it leaves ‘victims’ in its wake – these are the ‘unloved ones’ who find themselves falling into ‘unrequited love’. This is a darkness that romcom undoubtedly visits, and often to heartrending effect. But it ultimately cannot explore or dwell on such pain overly seriously at any very great length (‘What about our stories?’ Iris asks); to do so and to put the comedy of ‘romcom’ in peril would be to instead enter the territory of a ‘romantic drama’, though the line between these is finer than might often be thought. But the reflexive bearing of Iris’s monologue is felt even more intensely when placed in the context of the visual and other audio features it plays among. If What Women Want might be understood as imbricated with ‘the false happy end’, here Meyers playfully opens with a ‘false beginning’. In the first frames, over a beguiling orchestral score10 and the sound of birdsong, a man and woman rush to kiss one another passionately, framed in close-up against the backdrop of a riverbank, sunlight dappling the water and leaves of the trees surrounding them as they hold one another and begin to turn, moving like dancers in choreography that captures the slightly dizzying sensation of their unfolding, engulfing attraction. How many times have we seen scenes of this nature, structured in this way, delivered by the genre? However – would we not more typically expect to see and hear something of this nature at the climax to the film, rather than at the start? The camera begins to pull back and the audience realizes they’ve been fooled, that they have just been witness to a ‘meta-moment’, that this both is and isn’t the start of the film since it is actually a film within a film. Like us, Miles (Jack Black) is watching this kiss on a screen – what’s more, the soundtrack we can hear and which has been guiding us as to the film’s meaning is revealed to be, at least momentarily, diegetic music, since Miles is sitting behind a keyboard surrounded by musical technology, playing and composing the moving score we can hear as he watches. The relationship between diegesis and soundtrack then slips again, as an unseen Iris’s voiceover begins, rolling out over a visual montage that introduces all the key protagonists on either side of the Atlantic who will meet as a result of the heroines’ impulsive LA/Surrey holiday house swap, telling us something of their romantic lives as they are at this moment: Miles working at home with his girlfriend, who seems uninterested in his affection and who sure enough will later cheat on him; Amanda (Cameron

92

92

NANCY MEYERS

Diaz) and her boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) in a car together, not speaking and seeming distant from one another, shortly before he will finally admit he has been having an affair (‘love fades’); frail nonagenarian Arthur (Eli Wallach) climbing into bed and looking lovingly at a framed old black-and-white bridal portrait, which we take to be of his now-deceased wife (‘for others, love is simply lost’); and Graham (Jude Law) in a busy pub being eyed up appreciatively by a woman whose gaze turns on him as he passes, before he turns back and smiles at her (‘love can also be found, even if just for the night’). Finally, we meet Iris herself, wrapping a Xmas present at her desk as her office party gets underway, at which we will soon observe the undeserving recipient of the gift, Jasper (Rufus Sewell) (‘I have willingly loved that man for over three miserable years’). Indeed, moments later, to Iris’s absolute horror and heartbreak, Jasper’s engagement to another woman in the office will be publically announced to the assembled merry revellers. Indeed, one might say The Holiday’s self-conscious romcom reflections begin even before the movie does, through the very title of the film, which can’t but call to mind Holiday (1938) for the film-savvy audience. George Cukor’s screwball comedy starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn memorably traced an unlikely romance between lovers drawn from opposing social strata succeeding in the face of familial challenges and clashing values. But what is also interesting about Iris’s opening voiceover, quite outside its filmic referentiality, is how it invokes the weighty literary pedigree of the romcom, by way of William Shakespeare no less. This is not the first time that pervasive attitudes to romcom, which have to various degrees recurrently neglected, underestimated or wholly resisted the merit of Hollywood romantic comedy, have been contested somewhat by critical reference to its heritage among the works of Shakespeare. In the much revered Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (1981), for example, philosopher Stanley Cavell remarks in a discussion of self-consciousness in The Lady Eve (1941) that ‘it may be in their awareness of themselves, their responsibility for themselves, that the films of remarriage most deeply declare, and earn, their allegiance to Shakespearian romance’ (1981: 66–7). Extending this circle of inter-textuality further still, The Lady Eve is directly invoked by The Holiday, as Miles and Iris gleefully work their way through the classic Hollywood movies that retired screenwriter Arthur has

93

WAYS OF WATCHING

93

recommended, including The Lady Eve, and find themselves smitten by Barbara Stanwyck. ‘Every movie he’s told me to see has this powerhouse woman in it,’ observes Iris, conjuring up the central female figure that Meyers too has laboured to place at the core of her films. More recently, Celestino Deleyto returns in part to Shakespearean comedy, and sixteenth-century Italian prose fiction and drama before that, in order to conceptualize romcom’s ‘comic space as a magic space of transformation’ (2009: 36). This move to point to the foundational literariness and esteemed pedigree of romantic comedy, in which a through-line is traced from some of the greatest works of literature to movie romcom, poses something of a challenge to the established cultural hierarchy in which the ‘high culture’ reputation that Shakespeare has come to possess is far removed from the bottom-feeder ‘lowculture’ filmic status of romcom. This challenge to, or blurring of, the ‘literature v. cinema’ division is signalled too in The Holiday at the level of mise-en-scène where the shelves of books at Iris’s and Graham’s homes in Surrey are visually echoed by the extensive DVD library at Amanda’s home in LA. Furthermore, Iris’s personal evolution in LA is marked and advanced by her avidly seeking out the golden-age movie classics she has never seen, while Amanda leaves for Surrey with a stack of books she berates herself for having bought but never read; and book-editor Graham ends up finally knowing ‘what I  want is you’ with film trailer-maker Amanda, while writer Iris pairs up with film-composer Miles. Here ‘literature/film’ need not be understood as an opposition; if anything they may complement and enhance one another. But if the recourse to Shakespeare in The Holiday’s voiceover and in criticism might be seen as a canny strategic move to help ‘rehabilitate’ the genre, it is also to return to and endorse the gravitas of male authorship and the male canon of great art once more. What Shakespeare has to say about love is to be hallowed, committed to memory, recited. When he speaks of love, it is an important, universal topic. When Nancy Meyers speaks of it, the topic is positioned as commercial, stale, ‘pandering’, a phrase which is used with ubiquity in reviews of her films (and which invariably infers pandering to women audiences). Still, in what follows I want to look at further ways in which Meyers uses reflexivity and generic self-consciousness here both to explore something of the heritage of romcom and

94

94

NANCY MEYERS

the evolution of Hollywood. She does this not merely to foreground her ‘cleverness’ about romantic comedy and about film history, or to suggest to audiences that she is ‘being meta’ as a marker of a certain distanciation from the genre (as the romcom has sometimes done in other instances of late).11 Quite the reverse, while she may sometimes be using the film to make a critical point about injurious industrial practices in contemporary Hollywood (particularly through Arthur, who eulogizes the time before conglomerates when ‘there were no “cineplexes” or “multiplexes” ’12), she is also using it to embrace the genre, to pursue and indulge and tinker with the genre’s conventions, and to give the audience ‘permission’ to embrace romantic comedy even while the film acknowledges that we all know how it works. By this I mean that The Holiday offers the much derided romcom fan an overtly and warmly welcoming refuge, in which approval to revel in the genre is granted. This is in part as noted by celebrating the genre’s venerable heritage, starting with Shakespeare and moving through classical Hollywood. But it is also granted through reliably, affectionately and unapologetically serving up the regular pleasures of the genre (from meet-cutes, to sparky banter, to last-minute revelatory change-of-hearts), the familiar pleasures of a Meyers’ romcom (the exquisite interiors, the garrulous high-achieving professional woman), and offering inventive new pleasures too (the original ‘house-swap’ premise, the specific performances, combination and casting of these stars – for example, featuring both Law and Black in their first romcom leading man roles, with Black being particularly cast ‘against type’). This is a film that lays out all of the genre’s traits by being a film in part about Hollywood, detailing how Hollywood films are conceived and packaged through genre. But then, it declines to join the critical establishment which looks at the tropes of romcom (or rather, what that establishment positions as its ‘clichés’) and then says of them, ‘Isn’t this all rather banal?’ Rather, it employs those traits anyway and seems to say instead, ‘Isn’t this all rather wonderful?’ Reviews of the film were mixed, often very dismissive, with one continual criticism being that at just over two and a quarter hours it was far too long. But the Sunday Telegraph reviewer Catherine Shoard, while generally despising the film (‘The Holiday is not a good film, not by any stretch,’ she notes decidedly) still somewhat contradictorily concludes that it is nevertheless an accomplished

95

WAYS OF WATCHING

95

film in its prowess at delivering the foundational gratification of genre filmmaking – a pleasure in which any bid for originality must always be balanced by the comfort of familiarity. She writes: The Holiday is as hokey and rote as they come, so slavish about the romcom conventions it’s almost a burlesque. Why, then, does it work? It certainly makes you appreciate just how potent the romcom format is, to survive such abuse. Perhaps the sort of commitment we still show it means that it’s this very predictability which most appeals. (Shoard, 2006, my emphasis) It is always tempting, and always dangerous ground, to fall back on anecdotal observation in order to help make a point about the object of study. And yet I feel compelled to note here, more as a curious aside than as hard ‘evidence’ of some kind, that one of the most unanticipated and intriguing revelations to emerge in the process of writing this book was to discover the extent of the widespread affection and investment felt in this film by the many (women) fans I have encountered, who speak of it devotedly as one of their beloved ‘Xmas movies’ even though they may not know it to be ‘a Nancy Meyers movie’. As noted, the film fared pretty poorly among critics, and the statistics available at boxofficemojo.com confirm it actually accumulated the least successful box office of Meyers’s romantic comedies across What Women Want/Something’s Gotta Give/It’s Complicated (though still topping an impressive $215m globally, and generating a very healthy profit on an estimated $85m budget). Given its festive setting, it was perhaps quite predictable that it would become a regular feature of broadcast, satellite and cable TV holiday season schedules, ensuring a markedly visible ‘afterlife’ for a romcom. But in this process it has acquired a special currency among fans, entering the honoured ranks of those select and deeply cherished films that one looks forward to, indeed makes a tradition of, (re-)watching over the holiday period; and I would suggest it is not merely the fact of its seasonal setting, but its benign perspectives on romcom, on classical-style cinema, and the pleasures of genre that have helped facilitate this for its fans. Importantly, this is not, or need not be, about The Holiday being furtively, shamefacedly or ironically enjoyed as a ‘guilty pleasure’. This turn-of-phrase has become ubiquitous in recent years both as a savvy marketing angle

96

96

NANCY MEYERS

and as a defensive way of signalling one’s simultaneous enjoyment of and knowing (perhaps performative) ‘shame’ about or distance from an object one knows others to consider ‘bad’. Rather, The Holiday invites the romcom audience to put thoughts of guilt and cultural hierarchies to one side for simple, unadulterated, as it comes, pleasure.

‘I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life’: Romcom, genre and pleasure The opening of The Holiday, then, merely signals a film that is consistently shaped around intertextuality and a heightened sense of its own generic terrain and history. Its reflexivity is enabled from the off by the film’s premise, in which the glamorous Amanda (who runs her own hugely successful company producing movie trailers, and lives in a high-spec mansion in LA) swaps homes for two weeks with sweet Iris (a society wedding feature writer for The Telegraph in London, who lives in an idyllic English cottage in Surrey), after both decide they need to escape painful relationship meltdowns. This premise allows for the formation of two transatlantic relationships, across the geographic and cultural space that ‘should’ separate them, as Iris meets and falls for Miles when he visits Amanda’s house and Amanda ends up falling into bed with Iris’s brother Graham when he turns up drunk from the pub at her house one night. But beyond the premise enabling these romantic entanglements, through her profession and location in the heart of Hollywood, Amanda facilitates the film’s exploration of some of the labour and history behind the industry; in turn, through her role as visiting, awe-struck outsider, Iris facilitates a perspective on all this that is marked by wonder, not cynicism. Iris throws herself into the life she finds herself adopting in LA, soaking up the Californian views and air through the window of her cab and excitedly exploring Amanda’s lavish home like a child let loose in a sweetshop. Most importantly, she embraces the opportunity for friendship with Iris’s retired screenwriter neighbour Arthur Abbott, after she helps him find his way home one day, prefiguring the kind of inter-generational friendship that will later form the heart of The Intern. Indeed, this sense of Iris’s ‘child-like wonder’ is particularly marked when one considers the similarity between the

97

WAYS OF WATCHING

97

scenes of her arrival in LA and those of Hallie arriving and driving excitedly through London in The Parent Trap, where she too eventually pulls up outside a grand house about to become her splendid temporary home, and one can almost sense her gulping with anticipation as she soaks it in. Now living a sheltered and isolated life, it transpires Arthur Abbott was once Louis B.  Mayer’s office boy at MGM and one of the most celebrated writers of the golden-age (‘He added the “kid” to “Here’s looking at you kid”!’). To Iris’s delight, then, he becomes the sage who enables her (and perhaps the audience’s) crash course in classical Hollywood cinema and narrative, explaining the meaning of a ‘meet-cute’ to her after she rescues him lost on the street (by way of an example drawn from Lubitsch’s Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938)); telling her that the movies have two kinds of women, and she is acting like ‘the best friend’ when she should be ‘the leading lady’; inspiring her after years of being Jasper’s doormat to find some ‘gumption’, like the spirited women in the classical films he recommends and which she falls head-over-heels for just as quickly as she falls for Miles. Furthermore, his evident ongoing devotion to his deceased wife clearly touches Iris, and fuels the idyllic romantic imaginary at the heart of the film’s wistful longing for the kind of love Iris evoked in her opening voiceover. ‘She was the girl I always wrote,’ Arthur tells her fondly, when gathered at a Hanukkah party at his home with old friends (here Meyers perhaps noting the import of Jewish heritage to the history of the evolution of Classical Hollywood, as well as the fact that ‘the Holiday’ need not and should not mean simply ‘Christmas’). Indeed, in many ways the Abbotts form the film’s model relationship, as Arthur remembers his wife in a way which evokes both the desire and ‘spark’ they shared, and the strength of their friendship.13 When Iris escorts him to the Writers Guild of America for an evening honouring his work, in gentlemanly old-school style he presents her with a corsage and says, ‘If it’s corny or if it’s going to ruin your outfit, you don’t have to wear it’, to which she replies, ‘I like corny. I’m looking for corny in my life’. ‘That’s a nice line,’ Arthur quips. But it is also a line which captures this sense of the film giving ‘permission’ to romcom fans to embrace what are so often rejected as its ‘predictable’ and ‘trite’ tendencies; it refuses the cultural shame that is meant to come with admitting that ‘corny’ is sometimes comforting, satisfying, pleasurable.

98

98

NANCY MEYERS

The film’s false beginning draws attention to the processes of manipulation in cinema in a self-aware manner that will be picked up again later, when we see Amanda at work producing her latest trailer. That opening music we hear on the soundtrack which feels so heartfelt, and which arguably we would ordinarily rarely stop to reflect on to any great degree given the enduring attention to film as a visual rather than audio-visual medium, is revealed to be getting rolled out by a musician with a lot of technology whose job is very evidently to anticipate how best to manipulate the audience’s emotions in time to the image. Later we will see Miles actually compose the ‘theme’ for Arthur that we hear on the soundtrack accompanying him in the film, when he writes a ‘cheeky’ piece to accompany Arthur appearing on stage at the WGA event. He composes one for Iris too, and she is instantly able to riff on Miles’s music with him at his keyboard. The scene underlines the recognizably formulaic nature of much romcom music (what Stephanie Zacharek called here ‘an aggressively twinkly score’ (2006)), but in the process (like the scene in the Blockbuster movie-rental store where Miles delights in spontaneously singing an array of memorable film soundtracks to Iris) it also points too to the pleasure this ‘quotability’ can bring. Miles’s occupation, like Amanda’s, then, similarly enables a certain behind-the-scenes deconstruction of the industry from the start, while it also points again to the fact of Meyers being a filmmaker particularly attuned to the importance of music in her films, a sensibility she foregrounds here through Miles’s work. From the popular period mood music she recurrently turns to in order to evoke oldtime nostalgia and a ‘classic’ style (not just in What Women Want, but in Something’s Gotta Give and The Intern, where Billie Holliday featured on the moodboards she produced for the character of Ben which were shared with her crew and actors (BAFTA, 2015)), to telling how she plays the same music on her sets that she listened to as she was originally writing her scripts to help her actors catch the spirit of what she was feeling (Universal Pictures, 2006; see also Linden, 2004b), to her open indebtedness to the composers who have worked on her films, particularly Hans Zimmer who did the score for three of Meyers’s films including The Holiday (BAFTA, 2015), Meyers is evidently highly attuned to the power of music in her films and the prominent place of music in the repository of romantic comedy. Speaking at the BAFTA and BFI Screenwriter Lecture Series in 2015, Meyers explained, ‘If the music is wrong, the

9

WAYS OF WATCHING

99

scene just takes a turn and it’s just not right’ (BAFTA, 2015), before going on to tell how Zimmer had saved the day on Something’s Gotta Give after another composer produced a score that to her immense distress ‘[just] wasn’t right’. Zimmer stepped in to produce a new one in only a week, with a melody that had her ‘sobbing’ the first time she heard it; ‘and it’s bringing tears to my eyes now, I just never thought I could’ve gotten it’ (BAFTA, 2015). Indeed, again for the knowing audience, the film includes a playful reference and homage to Zimmer, when Miles and Iris visit a blockbuster store to pick up more films to watch.14 As noted above, Miles serenades her with highlights from some of his favourite scores prompted by the DVDs on the shelves, picking up Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and remarking with appreciation, ‘Hans – very unexpected – do you remember how great it was?’ – signalling a composer so unrivalled he can go by one name alone, there being only one ‘Hans’. Interestingly, the trailer we see Amanda working on moments after she splits up from her unfaithful boyfriend is not for a romantic comedy, but the (faux) action movie Deception, ‘starring’ Lindsay Lohan and James Franco in cameo roles. Nevertheless, it works to make the point about how so much of Hollywood pivots on genre filmmaking. In a highly derivative montage sequence, a

FIGURE 2.3 Composer Miles (Jack Black) deconstructs the music of romcom, playing ‘Arthur’s theme’ with Iris (Kate Winslet) in The Holiday.

10

100

NANCY MEYERS

series of scenes feature the stars as if working through an actionmovie checklist, caught in a rifle cross-hair, running through the streets, avoiding explosions, firing guns and moving in to kiss, all overlaid with the familiar gravelly tones of a stock-style voiceover (performed by famed voice actor Hal Douglas). Amanda is impressed – ‘Amazing! It finally looks like a hit!’, she tells her colleagues, a line which suggests the extent to which conventions sell genres and also neatly implies not that the film itself is the stuff of a hit, but that it has been packaged effectively to approximate one. ‘And that is why they pay you the big bucks,’ her assistant replies, underlining both how this whole industry boils down to money, and that this luxurious home and all its lavish contents have been paid for through Amanda’s own highly regarded skill and labour. As The Holiday continues Amanda will constantly see scenes from her life playing in her head as movie trailers. Settling down to sleep on her Business Class flight to London a montage of her various accomplishments commences which nicely nails the postfeminist ‘dilemma’ contrived by so many ‘chick flicks’ with their discourses of constant self-improvement and self-monitoring, when the same gruff voice from the action-movie trailer she just cut intones via her conscience, ‘Amanda Woods is proud to present:  her life! She had it all . . . the job . . . the house . . . the guy . . . This holiday season, find out what Amanda doesn’t have!’ This running life-as-a trailer motif has numerous effects. It points at one level to the ‘workaholic’ tendencies her ex-boyfriend accused her of, in that she experiences her life as an ongoing stream of imagined trailers, even when she’s on holiday from her job. Second, in its parodic and highly familiar content it points to the acutely formulaic nature of how we are sold the films we watch. But finally, it also mediates too on our need for narrative, a perspective sympathetic to the operations and pleasures of mainstream cinema, playfully highlighting how storytelling structures our lives and the ways we understand the world. Of course, critics of the film did not see any of this as ‘smart’ intertextuality at all.15 Rather, Meyers’s nods to film history and culture past and present were consistently witheringly disparaged as being either lazy, lacklustre, or presumptuous name-checking of some kind, situating her as a kind of delusional pretender. Zacharek judges that Meyers somehow doesn’t really ‘feel’ the classical cinema she evokes:  ‘[The] problem may be that Meyers has all the right references; she just doesn’t know what to do with them other

10

WAYS OF WATCHING

101

than tick them off her checklist. Barbara Stanwyck is a name she’s heard of, not someone who’s taken up residence in her heart’ (2006). Elsewhere, she ‘seems to imagine she’s being subversive on account of her movie-making in-jokes’, observes Shoard (2006). Meyers might have Arthur explain the mechanisms of the meet-cute by way of Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife’s pyjama-shopping yarn, she may even have ‘a gift for witty dialogue’, concedes Goodridge, ‘but make no mistake, she is no Lubitsch or McCarey’ (Goodridge, 2006). Foundas adopts exactly the same kind of emphatic and patronizing turn of phrase when he similarly stresses, ‘[Make] no mistake: We’re a long way here from Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges and Kaufman and Hart. If you really love the smart golden-age-of-Hollywood romantic comedies as much as Meyers claims that she does . . . you may end up pining for a Holiday from The Holiday’ (Foundas, 2006) – thus creating an opportunity to showcase his own cinephile credentials by invoking and recommending the superior work of Cukor from 1938 for his readers instead. ‘Meyers clearly thinks her film belongs in the tradition of great women’s pictures by the like of Preston Sturges. But there is no wit or sophistication to be found here’, concluded The Sunday Times (Landesman, 2006). Yet, by contrast, one might observe Quentin Tarantino’s penchant for ‘quoting’ film history has become one of the markers of his authorship, a calling card that evidences his masterful grasp of the film heritage(s) his filmmaking can and ‘should’ be placed within. But Tarantino does not make romcoms, and romcoms do not ‘fit’ critical expectations of a fertile space for sharp, erudite or gratifying reflexivity. Film fans may note, when Miles and Iris first meet, Miles is playing the score to Giuseppe Tornatore’s award-winning Cinema Paradiso (1988) on his car stereo, by ‘The great Ennio Morricone’, he tells her. A film that is widely held to be one of cinema’s most evocative reveries on the pleasures of classical Hollywood and of cinema itself, this ‘incidental’ choice cannot but be deliberate. It is only Dargis who more generously broke with the critical consensus to observe that The Holiday, not unlike Cinema Paradiso one might say, is ‘about movie love. There is something touching if wilfully naïve about Ms Meyers’s nostalgia for Hollywood’s golden age, when Louis B. Mayer ruled the very lot on which she shot part of this film. If her name had been Ned, not Nancy, she might have thrived then’ (Dargis, 2006). And perhaps, one can’t help speculate, she might have been a little more critically esteemed today had she been called Giuseppe or Quentin.

102

102

NANCY MEYERS

Love’s labour’s lost? Interestingly, in publicity for The Intern Meyers indicated that she may be done with romantic comedy, saying she had chosen not to make another romcom this time round because ‘I didn’t want to write another romance. I never wanted to write another scene in a restaurant between a man and a woman . . . I just didn’t have it in me to write one more of those things. And I felt sort of done with the romantic story. It just wasn’t what I was feeling. And I felt I’d covered that subject pretty well’ (cited in Larocca, 2015). Indeed, going back further still, there are hints she has felt this way for some time; in a 2009 interview with Venice magazine following the release of It’s Complicated when she is asked ‘What’s up next for you?’, she replies, ‘I don’t have a thing, nothing, zero . . . The only thing I can say is that I don’t want to write about anyone falling in love’ (Lewis, 2010: 126). Has Meyers exhausted her contribution to the genre, then? Have we seen our last Meyers’ romcom? As this chapter has shown, it has been reductive indeed to see her so commonly and myopically positioned as yet another ‘synthetic’ (Tobias, 2006) romcom director, and the will to understand romantic comedy as always ‘obvious’ has done a massive disservice to the genre. Audience research, concerned that romcoms negatively affect people’s actual romantic relationships, has charged the genre with ‘oversimplifying the process of falling in love and wrongly giving the impression that it could and should be achieved without any effort’ (Alleyne, 2008). This rudimentary understanding of what romcoms actually do bears little relation to the sheer labour that finding love entails in Meyers’s films – painful, time-consuming, debilitating labour, that doesn’t necessarily end in an easy ‘happyever-after’ – and which is evident, in fact, in much romantic comedy. Furthermore, it is important to note that the generic hybridity of certain of her films, which are not romcoms alone even though they might feature romance and other romcom characteristics, do not sit neatly with her reputation as ‘the Rom-com Queen’ to begin with (cf. Private Benjamin or Irreconcilable Differences as a writer/producer with Shyer, and later The Parent Trap and The Intern). The ‘Rom-com Queen’ label has served its function, nevertheless, being an easy way to keep her in a delimiting and delimited box. This is the upshot of a critical consensus that cannot allow for an approach

103

WAYS OF WATCHING

103

to romcom that credits it with the potential to be intelligent, surprising, thought-provoking or in any way complex. Back in 2010, as the ‘Oscar-buzz’ grew around Kathryn Bigelow’s prospects for being the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director with the Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker (2009), the media entered a period of intensified discussion about the marginalization of women directors. Bigelow won the Oscar, and history was made. But in the run up to this, an article in Salon by Martha P. Nochimson subverted all those commentators who were sharing their relief and delight that at last a woman director was set to have this recognition, by expressing frustration that in her view it was being won by a woman director essentially masquerading as a man (2010). ‘I’m still coming to grips with how a woman could possibly have dreamed up this spartan American solider in Iraq, who, while obsessively romancing death as a bomb-squad ace, outdoes the most extreme images of machismo ever produced by mainstream America’, she wrote (ibid.). Bigelow’s success, which inevitably was hailed as a victory for women directors even despite Bigelow’s refusal to position herself as ‘a woman director’, actually served to underscore and even bolster the massively problematic gender politics of Hollywood, Nochimson argued. And in order to make her point, she powerfully and persuasively compared Meyers’s (and Ephron’s) standing to Bigelow’s16: Looks to me like [Bigelow’s] masquerading as the baddest boy on the block to win the respect of an industry still so hobbled by gender-specific tunnel vision that it has trouble admiring anything but filmmaking soaked in a reduced notion of masculinity . . . Yep, Bigelow produced some glorious montages and shots, like the spare geometry of the almost completely white frames in the army morgue. But I think the outsize admiration for her masterly technique and the summary dismissal in the current buzz of directors like Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers reveal an untenable assumption that the muscular filmmaking appropriate for the fragmented, death-saturated situations of war films is innately superior to the technique appropriate to the organic, life-affirming situations of romantic comedy. I  don’t begrudge the praise for Bigelow’s depiction of urban war violence, but why the general opinion that Ephron and Meyers aren’t up to much because they don’t use hand-held cameras and flashy cuts

104

104

NANCY MEYERS

that tensely survey an inscrutable environment? That’s not their material. (Nochimson, 2010) Here Nochimson adeptly points to how all the odds are stacked against filmmakers like Ephron and Meyers winning awards or respect in a critical and cultural marketplace that fundamentally does not value the substance, narratives or aesthetics of the genres they work in. As Meyers has put it, ‘These are the movies I want to write, these are the stories I want to tell. I don’t have a thriller in me’ (BAFTA, 2015) – but her stories, so frequently the stories of women, are consistently not deemed ‘important’ in the marketplace she moves in. Still, there is a disconcerting potential for Nochimson’s argument to be allied to an essentialist position here which needs to be carefully navigated, one Bigelow has become all too used to traversing as a woman working in ‘male genres’; namely, we must be cautious indeed of implying that women directors would do better to chip away at the patriarchy by focusing their talents on certain ‘life-affirming situations’ (read: ‘female interest’), or of suggesting they are largely interested only in particular kinds of filmmaking. This would simply be to continue to pigeonhole them, however inadvertently. As Meyers herself has observed, an elementary feature of Hollywood’s sexist environment is that it excludes women directors from big-budget blockbuster productions, a fact sometimes ‘excused’ by the claim that women aren’t interested in such work: ‘Even I was saying for a minute that maybe women just don’t want to direct the big-cape movies or tentpole movies because maybe they can’t really relate, but now I’m thinking that’s not even true. Let’s not assume women don’t want in on those kind of movies. Women can direct dinosaurs. Believe me’ (Larocca, 2015). Nevertheless, Nochimson rightly points to the gendered cultural hierarchy that exists in Hollywood, and how the first woman director to win the Academy’s recognition was never going to do it with a romcom. In the next chapter I examine how the kind of ‘summary dismissal’ of Meyers which Nochimson speaks of has meant Meyers has been denied the kind of auteur-director status enjoyed by numerous of her male peers, and by other women directors typically working outside of the Hollywood mainstream. What this chapter has demonstrated, in line with Deleyto (2009), is how, if this cultural hierarchy is to be challenged, a more constructive and flexible approach to understanding the territory occupied

105

WAYS OF WATCHING

105

by romantic comedy is needed to revise our enduringly simplistic notions of how genre works and what romcom actually is. Only once the critical consensus recognizes the romcom’s inherent elasticity, rather than presumes its constraints, will it see its generic impulses at work everywhere, rather than only at the bottom of the industrial pile.

Notes 1 The term ‘meet-cute’ is used by romcom screenwriters to describe the inventive moment and manner in which the soon-to-be-couple first meet. 2 In its most prevalent form we might call it a straight, white women’s genre at that, though as Kelly McWilliam’s book When Carrie Met Sally: Lesbian Romantic Comedies (2012) traces, there has also been a significant lesbian romcom ‘sub-genre’ since the 1990s. 3 In addition, it is the adopted self-title of a San Jose romcom novelist, ‘Rich Amooi: The King of Romantic Comedy’, whose telling selfauthored blurb declares, ‘I believe in public displays of affection, silliness, infinite possibilities, donuts, gratitude, laughter, and happily ever after’ (www.richamooi.com). 4 For example, she talks too about devising the title, saying, ‘I came up with What Women Want on the day I started writing it’ (Lewis, 2009/ 10: 122), the original having been Head Games. 5 Orange proves to be a key accent colour for Meyers in fact, for example, being used strikingly in the hallway of Annie’s London home in The Parent Trap and again in It’s Complicated. Meyers tells how she ‘was nervous about capturing California’, working on the latter film on a set in Brooklyn. Hence, discussing images of Jane’s home with interviewer Bradley Bayou she tells him, ‘Again, I put orange everywhere I could. Do you see the bowl of oranges? Because you could [have] put lemons, or apples. I wanted to bring the California Santa Barbara rooftop orange, dark red colour in wherever I could. You’ll see it everywhere. It’s even in the drinks. Because I’m trying to keep the sunshine in the house’ (Bayou, 2013). If orange is used in It’s Complicated to underscore the sense of place, in The Parent Trap it is used to anchor character. The striking use of a rich terracotta orange in the grand London townhouse hallway was originally suggested by production Designer Dean Tavoularis, but Meyers was initially sceptical; what persuaded her was the way in which it echoed Lindsay

106

106

NANCY MEYERS

Lohan’s hair/colouring, and her sense that when Hallie arrived for the first time at her mother’s house, it would suggest she was ‘at home’ there (Bayou, 2013). 6 Unless he is feigning troubled homosexuality as a ruse to be rid of Lola, a scene in which tough-guy Gibson discomfortingly ‘camps it up’. 7 This poster is included in the film’s entry on imdb.com. 8 Indeed it is striking to note across the marketing of Meyers’s films how, in some permutation or other, a focus on faces, on smiling and the configuration of couples (generally seen in close-up, or mid-shot) constitutes such a pervasive design. While delivering an effective ‘narrative image’ (Ellis, 1982), these also work to bolster the sense that Meyers’s oeuvre does not comprise ‘serious’ fare, worthy of ‘serious’ cinephiles. 9 Here, The Parent Trap rather foreshadows The Holiday which similarly brings together couples across a US/UK divide. But The Holiday even more explicitly points to the problems that lay ahead for at least one of its transatlantic partnerships, as LA-based Amanda and Surrey-based Graham try to fathom the logistics of how such a romantic arrangement might work. Amanda points to how they never travel to the same places and imagines a scenario six months from now where it all goes wrong despite their trying, ‘leaving two miserable people feeling totally mashed up and hurt’. Graham derails this somewhat by telling her, ‘I have another scenario for you. I’m in love with you’, and though she leaves the conversation still unconvinced, hurtfully choosing not to return his declaration of love, by the film’s end they decide to forge ahead with a relationship. But while this might suggest that ‘love conquers all’ (for example, burying the matter of how all this will be workable given that Graham is the widowed father of two young daughters (see Hamad, 2014: 20)), again there are plenty of questions left unanswered for any audiences wishing to pose them. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of The Holiday noted, ‘The problem is that happy endings this strident and overextended begin to seem somewhat desperate’ (2006). But again this interpretation of Meyers as somehow trying and failing to get the ending ‘right’ could be repositioned as Meyers suggesting that romantic resolutions are just not necessarily easy. 10 This ‘love theme’ as Meyers describes it in the DVD commentary is drawn on again later to score Graham and Amanda’s blossoming affair. Lying next to one another with his young daughters in a play tent at their home, it returns to the soundtrack to underline

107

WAYS OF WATCHING

107

the manner in which their relationship has entered new emotional territory; ‘It becomes their love theme’, Meyers comments. 11 In Friends with Benefits (2011), for example, the heroine Jamie (Mila Kunis) blames misleading romantic comedies for the impossibility of contemporary romance, at one point passing a poster for The Ugly Truth (2009) and shouting at it, ‘Shut up Katherine Heigl, you stupid liar!’ More recently, They Came Together (2014) is an all-out parody of the genre, the entire premise of which is to lampoon romcom conventions using a plot which is overtly modelled on Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail (1998). 12 In the film’s DVD commentary, Meyers observes that Arthur says ‘a lot of things [that] I believe about the movie business, about how too many movies come out at the same time . . . I got a chance to blow off some steam through Arthur’s character. And of course as a screenwriter I do think that screenwriters are generally underappreciated in Hollywood . . . I wanted to say [something] about the contribution that writers have made to our culture, and to the films that created genres really’. 13 In some respects, these features are split across the other two romances at the heart of the film, where the relationship between Amanda/Graham is fuelled by instant sexual attraction (tellingly played by the more conventionally attractive of the A-list stars), and the relationship between Iris/Miles comes from the ‘slow burn’ of companionship. Meyers does not pass any judgement on which of these are ‘better’; rather they seem to represent two models of relationship, suggesting a more flexible exploration of what can come to constitute romantic love. 14 In another little intertextual moment in this scene, Miles sings music from The Graduate, only for Dustin Hoffman to look disapprovingly at him from across the store. In the DVD commentary Meyers tells how Hoffman just happened to come across them filming on location and was game for making an unscripted cameo which they wrapped in a single take, suggesting Meyers is sometimes open to a spontaneous change of plan from her screenplay. 15 Beyond its Hollywood references, Meyers explains in the film’s press kit how the romantic montage of Amanda and Graham fooling around after their splendid lunch date paid homage to a European influence: ‘I’m a big Claude Lelouch fan (the French director whose most famous film was 1966’s A Man and a Woman, with its memorable score by Francis Lai),’ says Meyers, ‘and I shot a ’60s style montage with Jude and Cameron. We just improvised all day’ (Universal Pictures, 2006: 6).

108

108

NANCY MEYERS

16 It is also interesting to consider here, without wanting to fuel such gendered scrutiny and the discourses of conservative judgemental comparisons it promotes, whether one of the reasons Meyers generates less press interest than Bigelow is because of how she looks in contrast to Bigelow. As I have noted elsewhere, journalists have long since been compelled to comment on Bigelow’s arresting looks, especially as a woman director whose normatively desirable beauty (tall, athletic physique, with long dark hair that is frequently worn loose) makes her decision to work in ‘male genres’ somehow even more intriguing (Jermyn, 2003: 127– 8). Both Bigelow and Meyers tend to eschew overtly feminine attire as far as can be told from publicity images of them. But in comparison one might say Meyers sports a polished and more low-key ‘professional woman’ style, often favouring simply cut suits of some kind or turtlenecks, and has a petite stature and trim, neatly highlighted hair. This is a look which does not lend itself to the journalistic fascination that has long accompanied the more readily ‘photogenic’ Bigelow. As Merkin put it in the New York Times, sharing the kind of detail that profiles of male directors are arguably far less likely to feature, ‘With her black-framed glasses and penchant for wearing clothes that seem like a softer variant of a man’s business suit – white blouse, yellow cardigan over slacks, low-heeled patent-leather pumps – the petite and attractive Meyers might pass for a lawyer or professor’ (2009).

109

3 Rethinking Authorship The Wrong Kind of Woman Filmmaker? Meyers and the Quandaries of the Female Auteur

In a 2014 essay, Deborah M. Sims observed that despite being ‘the most financially successful female director of all time’, Nancy Meyers ‘has not broken into the exclusive realm of celebrity directors’, a category she delineates as consisting of ‘Hollywood’s community of celebrated artistic directors’ (191). To account for this omission, she notes simply there are two key factors: ‘She is a woman and, worse still, she writes so-called chick flicks’ (ibid.). Sims is right to highlight this disquieting state of affairs, which has meant that despite Meyers’s consistent box office performance – her six films as director have generated well over $1.3 billion in worldwide box office (thenumbers.com) – and her reliable capacity to attract big-name stars to her projects, she herself has remained a relative unknown outside of the industry in terms of Hollywood directorial ‘celebrity’. While the fact than in 2015 she was the ACE (American Cinema Editors) Filmmaker of the Year demonstrates recognition from the industry, when she is written about in reviews it is recurrently in highly dismissive and often gendered terms as we have seen; hence, the Village Voice review of Something’s Gotta Give in 2003 observed of the filmmaker behind this ‘menopausal screwball’ and ‘pandering tripe’ that ‘few contemporary names send more of a succubine chill down

10

110

NANCY MEYERS

the discerning filmgoer’s spine than Nancy Meyers’ (Atkinson, 2003). If Meyers is recognized for anything among those who are familiar with her name it is, as noted, typically for having been enthroned as Hollywood’s reigning ‘rom-com queen’, or some variation thereof (see, for example, Babb, 2010; Bond, 2010). And it is this fact that provides the answer also to Sims’s apposite question: ‘If audiences are receptive to her films, and studios rely on her as a consistent moneymaker, why is Nancy Meyers ignored in film literature?’ (2014: 193). In a 2011 article, which like Sims’s also examines how it is that seemingly so few people outside the business know who Meyers is, Darryl Wiggers painstakingly evidences how Meyers’s most popular films as a writer and director, calculated in terms of ticket sales at the time of his writing,1 have easily outperformed those of numerous feted and/or widely name-checked filmmakers including Woody Allen and Judd Apatow. He notes further how revered figures such as Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers are ‘much talked about in terms of their perceived artistic excellence. This garners them much name recognition’ (2001: 67). Wiggers observes this conferring of ‘name recognition’ is likely to aid their future ticket sales – then, underlining the degree of Meyers’s impressive and overlooked attainment, he evidences that even without this approving chatter Meyers has outperformed these filmmakers at the box office too. The question as to what exactly constitutes a ‘celebrity director’, and whether this is necessarily quite the same as a ‘celebrated artistic director’ (Sims, 2014: 191), since this more overtly implies recognition as an auteur-director, opens up some opaque terrain that space prohibits me from tackling here at any great length. What is clear is that among the issues informing the deliberations of critics, scholars and industrial agencies such as film festivals regarding which filmmakers to champion – since all of these influence how recognition and status are endowed on individual directors – lie the intertwined matters of gender, genre and taste. As we saw in the previous chapter, the romcom has come to occupy a place of low cultural esteem, inextricably linked to its being understood as a lightweight, ‘woman’s genre’. By comparison, we might think for a moment about the Western genre, for example, which has been widely written about and studied for decades in cultural criticism and the academy. It is taken ‘seriously’ within Hollywood cinema for numerous reasons, including how certain of its locations and spaces have often lent themselves to particularly striking ‘cinematic’, iconographic landscapes and for

1

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

111

its shifting reflections on a transformative historical period which had seismic repercussions. Furthermore, and in a point not unrelated to the critical and scholarly interest bestowed on it, it has been widely understood as a ‘masculine’ genre, being made largely by men, about men (though this is not to say it has not been watched and enjoyed by large numbers of women). While the Western has rarely featured of late as a major generic presence in contemporary Hollywood, its place in the academy and the cultural consciousness as a populist entity with gravitas remains robust, just like the names of its celebrated directors, from John Ford (who was foremost in establishing its classical parameters) to Clint Eastwood (who knowingly recalibrated some of these). Put simply, for most critics it is arguably the case that a ‘bad’ Western would be generally taken to have more complexity and substance to it than a bad romcom.

The matter of critics In an industrial and cultural climate which has increasingly come to despise ‘chick flicks’ and romantic comedy, Meyers has remained an outsider in terms of both scholarly and mainstream, popular recognition. This chapter explores some of the reasons why Meyers doesn’t ‘fit’ in the bulk of feminist film studies, how it is nevertheless possible to situate her as an auteur (without attaching caveats) and why it is that despite the ongoing and flourishing existence of feminist film criticism a woman filmmaker of such stature has gone so widely undocumented. In terms of feminist film studies, one might say Meyers has been marginalized despite being a woman. By contrast, and in accordance with Sims’s view above (2014: 191), one might say Meyers has at least in part failed to win general popular recognition because she’s a woman. Research in 2016 into the discriminatory practices of film journalism and its continued gender imbalance offers new substance to this position. A  report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film at San Diego State University headed by Martha M. Lauzen, entitled ‘Thumbs Down 2016: Top Film Critics and Gender’ and examining the gender divide among film reviewers, confirmed again the extent to which men outnumber women in the profession and noted some of the repercussions of this gender bias. The synopsis of the report given on the Center’s website explains how the study

12

112

NANCY MEYERS

[considers] 5,776 reviews written by 247 ‘top critics’ on the popular film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes during spring 2016. Findings indicate that women comprised 27% and men 73% of the top critics. Women wrote 24% and men 76% of the reviews during the study period. Men outnumbered women in every job title category considered, including as film critics, staff writers, and freelancers. Reviews written by men also outnumbered those written by women in every type of publication considered, and in every film genre. The top critics reviewed higher proportions of films featuring protagonists of their own sex. As a result, films with male protagonists receive greater visibility than films with female protagonists. (2016) Interestingly, within this, reviews of romantic comedies and dramas were one of the least skewed arenas; here men wrote 57 per cent and women 43 per cent of reviews (Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, 2016: 2), though the study noted ‘it was unclear’ whether this was due to the preferences and agency of women reviewers who sought them out, or because women reviewers were just more likely to be assigned romantic films by their editors (ibid.:  6). The researchers found in their sample that ‘on average, male and female reviewers do not differ in the quantitative ratings they award films featuring female protagonists, whether the ratings are expressed as stars, reels, grades, or some percentage score’ (Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, 2016: 2), but importantly women were more likely to review films with female protagonists than men (34 per cent of their reviews, as opposed to 24 per cent of reviews by men) (ibid.). To elaborate on why such details matter, previous reporting has shown that romantic comedies, the genre with which Meyers is so closely imbricated, consistently fare poorly on Rotten Tomatoes’s aggregated scoring system. The site constitutes a leading ‘hub of film criticism on the Web, the most trusted benchmark for a film’s overall quality’ (Lang, 2016b). At the same time, the entire premise of aggregated film review websites has come to be increasingly questioned as organized around accounting systems that cannot deal with nuance and are open to influence from the industry and distortion. Nevertheless, Rotten Tomatoes still holds very considerable clout, where the aggregated scores it gives may impact not

13

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

113

just on whether potential audiences decide to see a particular film or not, but what kinds of films are more readily able to get greenlit in the future. Writing on film.com in 2008 and contemplating the health of ‘real romantic comedies’, Laremy Legel conducted a small survey of the site to examine the US box office of a number of films, which he included under the elastic mantle of romantic comedy made between 2003 and 2008 (and including The Holiday), alongside their Rotten Tomatoes score. He found that the films averaged a critics’ score of just 46 per cent, with only six romcoms from the period reaching the highest Rotten Tomatoes rank of ‘certified fresh’, currently defined as achieving a score of 75 per cent or more, and having been reviewed by at least eighty critics if a wide-release, at least five of whom are among its ‘Top Critics’. Regularly among the most highly scored titles Legel listed were films which, within the generic slipperiness of romantic comedy, one might say were not more overtly female-targeted instances of the genre but at the hazier more contested end of recent ‘romcom’ iterations (though often listed on the site under ‘Romance, Comedy’). These more generously rated films included, for example, ‘homme-coms’ (Jeffers-McDonald, 2009) with their greater focus on male stars and ‘laddish’ humour (such as Knocked up (2007) scoring 91 per cent; Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) at 85 per cent) and romantic generic hybrids (fantasy/family films Elf (2003) at 83 per cent and Enchanted (2007) at 94 per cent; and the action-romance Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) at 58 per cent). Legel concludes:  ‘Critics HATE romantic comedies . . . “True” romantic comedies of merit are becoming extinct . . . A  critically loved “true” romantic comedy that scores at the box office is becoming non-existent’ (Legel, 2008). Perhaps, one should ask, could it be that ‘true’ romantic comedies are truly and consistently without merit and deserving of terrible reviews and scores? This would be a rather simplistic and sweeping deduction to arrive at indeed, though the evidence suggests the most stalwart antiromcom critics might well believe it. What seems more likely, however, is that the male bias evident in film journalism has entrenched a tradition in which belittling and denigrating the genre in its most evidently female-focused form has become something of a professional pastime. This has come to constitute the critical consensus, and it need not only be enacted by men – the (precious few) women film journalists in employment may well regularly participate in it

14

114

NANCY MEYERS

too, as the ‘Thumbs Down 2016’ report would seem to suggest, given it found a general parity across male/female reviewers’ ratings of female-protagonist films in its sample. And why wouldn’t they, if they are hoping strategically to secure themselves a career in a maledominated profession, where this disdainful position more often than not counts as the accepted ‘status-quo’ and where only 37 per cent of them (as opposed to 54 per cent of their male colleagues) are members of a professional critic’s association? (Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film, 2016: 2). In any career, after all, it is generally easier to get ahead by toeing the party line. However, shortly after the Thumbs Down 2016 report was released, salon.com conducted further research into Rotten Tomatoes following news stories about the attempts of angry male audiences trying to sabotage the ‘all-women reboot’ of Ghostbusters (2016) by bombarding internet sites with poor reviews, and in response to an evident gender difference among professional reviewers’ responses to the film. It had become apparent, Nico Lang observed, that ‘while 79.3 per cent of women who reviewed the film gave it a positive review, just 70.8 per cent of male critics agreed with them. That’s a difference of 8.5 per cent’ (Lang, 2016b). Subsequently, Lang undertook further research with a much bigger historical reach than the ‘Thumbs Down 2016’ report and specifically focussing on the landscape of films made to appeal to women audiences: Looking at movies released since 2000, Salon surveyed 100 films on Rotten Tomatoes that were made and marketed with a female audience in mind . . . Although we think of the aggregate Tomatometer score as being the objective assessment of a movie’s quality, the survey found there’s more to the story when you break down the scores. These 100 movies, many pejoratively mislabeled as ‘chick flicks,’ received fewer favorable reviews from men – 8.4 per cent fewer on average. ‘Ghostbusters’ actually falls near the exact middle of the pack: The median gender gap was 8.7 percentage points . . . In total, 84 per cent of the films surveyed received more positive reviews from female reviewers than from men. (Lang, 2016b) Very usefully for the purposes of this chapter, four of Meyers’s films feature in Lang’s survey. As can be seen below, his findings were organized according to the average review rating given by male

15

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

115

reviewers; by female reviewers; on the ‘actual Tomatometer’; and the difference between men and women’s average scores. From this we can see just how much Meyers’s critical standing can be said to have suffered due to male anti–‘chick flick’ bias in film journalism.

The Intern

Male

Female

Actual Tomatometer

Difference

58.3

70.7

61

12.4

The Holiday

44.3

52.6

47

8.3

Something’s Gotta Give

64.5

71

71

6.5

It’s Complicated

55.6

60

57

4.4

Adapted from Lang, 2016b

As Lang put it in an earlier article reflecting on the repercussions of the gender divide in film journalism, ‘Because men are commonly treated as the default in movies – the everyman who stands in for the audience – they rarely are forced to empathize with others’ perspectives’ (Lang, 2016a). By contrast, women grow up having to perform the reverse manoeuvre as a matter of course. Lang argues, then, that when men are asked to undertake the recalibration entailed when they are not ‘the default’ seen on-screen, this can produce a discomfort and knee-jerk resistance to women-centred films or stories – precisely the kind of movies Meyers is most associated with, in other words. In sum, and notwithstanding the existence of a significant if limited lineage of notable women ‘reviewers’ such as the United Kingdom’s C. A. Lejeune, Penelope Houston and Dylis Powell, as well as Carrie Rickey and Manhola Dargis among others in the United States, ‘The problem is, thus, not just that men do not like female-driven movies and television shows as much as women do but that they have a disproportionate say in how such entertainment is received’ (Lang, 2016a). With all this in mind, in this chapter I want to take Sims’s observations further to unpack some of the reasons for and repercussions of Meyers’s relatively ‘non-recognized’ status. It is important to note the ‘relatively’ here because, as already examined in the Introduction, it would be wrong to suggest Meyers is completely absented from the public sphere, has no fan following, or attracts no media interest. For example, in 2016, the New York Times ran a humorous survey of her Instagram account (she has 25k followers

16

116

NANCY MEYERS

on @nmeyers at the time of writing) (Finger, 2016). Meyers joined the photo-sharing social networking service when The Intern was in production, initially to drum up publicity for her upcoming film it would seem. The New  York Times story ran under the ‘Social Capital’ column  – ‘a series devoted to analyzing the social-media presences of celebrities’, which has similarly profiled stars such as Danny DeVito, Goldie Hawn, and Alanis Morissette  – thus suggesting Meyers has at least enough visibility and cachet to merit this space with the Times’ readership. Indeed, the piece’s writer, Bobby Finger, is evidently a fan, warmly imagining how photos from Meyers’s account might be envisioned as scenes taken from her characters’ lives and referring to her as a ‘beloved auteur’ (Finger, 2016). And so too does her Instagram account evidence that Meyers does have a fan base – her posts are always liberally met with enthused declarations of devotion from her followers, telling how her films have moved them, how adored her designs are, how many times her movies have been watched on repeat, articulating a warmly heartfelt reception that lies in very stark contrast to the way she is often met by critics. In a particularly interesting demonstration of this, one fan, Zhanna Bulankova, a Russian artist living in Paris, has produced a series of highly skilled graphic design illustrations of stills taken from The Intern, which can be seen on her Instagram account, @zhannabulankova, and her page at behance.net (Bulankova, 2015). She describes the images as a ‘personal project inspired by [the] awesome film The Intern’ (Bulankova, 2015), one of which Meyers re-grammed on her Instagram account on 17 March 2016. The project comprises the kind of productive, dedicated and imaginative ‘fan-art’ and fan activity which is rarely aligned with the audiences for chick flicks or romcoms. Indeed, Guardian journalist and pop culture author Hadley Freeman, while noting Meyers has attracted ‘the derision of critics’, also states she nevertheless has ‘millions of fans’ (2015). And as noted, some critics have actually described her as an ‘auteur’ (including Finger above (2016)), although this quite typically comes with caveats of one kind or another rather than being unqualified recognition. Stephen Farber’s Hollywood Reporter review of The Intern, for example, describes her as a ‘mainstream female auteur’ (2015) (somewhat echoing Radner’s 2011 description of her as a ‘neo-feminist auteur’), as if this must be qualitatively different somehow to a mainstream male auteur. Elsewhere, Eric Henderson’s review

17

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

117

FIGURE 3.1 ‘A personal project inspired by [the] awesome film The Intern’:  artist Zhanna Bulankova’s fan-art celebrates Meyers’s work with detailed graphic design illustrations (image reproduced courtesy of Zhanna Bulankova).

of the film in Slant observes that she is ‘unquestionably committed to her auteurist signature of giving her female protagonists their cake and letting them eat it too’, seemingly recognizing she has met the auteur criteria of a consistent theme or vision across her work. But his one-star review ultimately leaves the reader in no doubt this in itself does not an auteur-proper make, when he crushingly asserts that still ‘she isn’t a gifted director . . . [and] an even less talented writer’ (2015). The purpose of this chapter is not to suggest, then, that Meyers remains an utter unknown. Rather, as Sims and Wiggers indicate, she has not reached comparable levels of recognition to that enjoyed by her male peers working in Hollywood over common time frames. As she put it herself in an interview with Bradley Bayou, expressing frustration at the manner in which her work is recurrently and dismissively reduced to the sum of its mise-en-scène, and her authority and skillset as a seasoned filmmaker beyond this sidelined, ‘I do have the same job as Tarantino you know’ (Bayou, 2013). Indeed, in an illuminating 2016 ‘news story’ which crystallized how the Hollywood directorial hierarchy and auteur canon is

18

118

NANCY MEYERS

enforced across subjective evaluations of taste and value, the fact that Tarantino had stated in a New Zealand magazine interview that The Intern was one of his favourite films of 2015 was picked up as a headline by the US media. The New York Daily News, for example, reported that in an ‘unexpected declaration’: Quentin Tarantino has weighed in on this year’s red-hot Oscars controversy – in the weirdest possible way. ‘One of my favourite movies this last year was Nancy Meyers’ ‘The Intern’,’ the ‘Hateful Eight’ director told New Zealand’s Metro magazine. ‘They’re not even considering that for the Oscars even though I think Robert De Niro gave one of the best performances this year in that movie.’ (Jagannathan, 2016) Striking the same chord elsewhere in an article entitled ‘Quentin Tarantino Had a Very Questionable Pick for One of the Best Movies of 2015’, Esquire magazine observed, ‘The master continues to surprise us’, on learning that ‘this beautiful strange auteur’ had revealed that he considered the script for The Intern to be as accomplished as It’s Complicated (Miller, 2016). Why, exactly, was this in any way considered a news story one might ask? Because Tarantino is a legend  – he is ‘the master’, says Miller. Because he is an unquestioned auteur of brilliant, edgy, bold, bravura cinema. And because despite this, apparently he watches – he likes! – Nancy Meyers movies. Were the story reversed, were Nancy Meyers to mention in interview that she admired Tarantino, or thought a performance in one of his films by a highly esteemed actor was Oscar-worthy, it is difficult to imagine this would be considered a revelation in the same way, much less that it would perplex numerous media outlets sufficiently for them to run a story devoted to it. The ‘unexpectedness’, the ‘weirdness’, the newsworthiness here comes from Tarantino momentarily disrupting the auteur-director hierarchy, as the cinematic genius discloses he respects the work of the mere metteur en scène – even though one of the cornerstones of Tarantino’s much revered cinephile status is precisely the fact of his hugely diverse and extensive film knowledge and appreciation. As we saw in Chapter  1, when Meyers constituted one half of a husband-wife writing partnership in her early career with

19

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

119

Charles Shyer, she could be slotted neatly by media coverage into existing gendered, romantic and industrial paradigms. However, as she evolved into a successful director of popular cinema and romantic comedies in her own right, and as her partnership with Shyer ended, she became something of a conundrum for the industry’s representational frameworks. Unquestionably, the marginalization of Meyers from the directorial celebrity Sims speaks of (2014) has numerous and significant consequences. This is not only because her peripheral place in the mainstream consciousness helps ‘enable the dismissal of her films’, as Sims notes (2014:  193), and stands to potentially impede her ability to have future projects greenlit by comparison to her more widely renowned peers. As Timothy Corrigan has noted in his consideration of ‘the auteur as star’, shifts in film marketing since the post-classical period have meant that ‘auteurs have become increasingly situated along an extratextual path in which their commercial status as auteurs is their chief function as auteurs . . . auteurist movies are often made before they get made . . . the auteur-star can potentially carry and redeem any sort of textual material’ (1991: 105). In addition, the relative lack of recognition or visibility afforded to Meyers upholds the enduring sense that the labour of directing is inherently ‘men’s work’, thereby augmenting a system which keeps women directors at the margins. Sims invokes the operation of this self-sustaining and discriminatory critical landscape strikingly in the following manner: A famous director does not make every culturally impactful film, but nearly every film made by a famous director is analysed for its potential to be culturally impactful. In the same manner that genre informs audiences, a director’s celebrity status or lack thereof can shape the viewers’ preconceptions of a film . . . While the individual response of each movie-goer is subjective, the culture of genre labelling, movie reviews and film scholarship guide viewers in the expectations of, and responses to, entertaining programming. In other words, when a film is touted as important, audiences are more likely to regard it with serious attention. (Sims, 2014: 193–4) The lack of prominence afforded to Meyers is, as Sims suggests, not just an issue in journalism, but is also acutely evident across

120

120

NANCY MEYERS

film scholarship (see also Jermyn, 2017). Chapters such as Michelle Schreiber’s 2014 account, which are willing to consider Meyers an auteur, are scarce indeed. Within the terrain of Film Studies this neglect extends across academic accounts of Hollywood cinema with all its manifold branches, as well as feminist film criticism. And thus it is that this chapter poses the question; might Meyers be understood as ‘the wrong kind of woman filmmaker’? By this I mean that, other than being a woman, Meyers ticks none of the boxes that have overwhelmingly concerned much feminist film criticism. With its politically motivated, galvanizing rationale and rallying call to think beyond the constraints of dominant practice, this has attended in large part to women filmmakers positioned somehow outside of ‘the mainstream’, breaking in one way or another with its prevalent conventions or modes of production, or women who have necessitated historical excavation. Instead Meyers is a contemporary Hollywood director, who makes very popular films in familiar genres in an enduringly dominant classical film style, the very style which feminist criticism has most vigorously challenged as compromised by patriarchal interests, ideology and practices. Indeed, Meyers herself happily recognizes the tradition she belongs to, observing, ‘I’ve always made movies in a sort of classic form, the way people have done it for a long time’ (cited in Dawes, 2009). But at the same time it is in part the intriguing intersection between the apparent popularity her films enjoy with audiences, and the discomfort they produce among critics for their perceived conservatism and predictability – that is, the composite of pleasures and frictions evident in Meyers’s films – that make them a potentially rich unmined subject for analysis. In this sense, Meyers exemplifies how after decades of scholarship the question or ‘problem’ of ‘pleasure’, and how to acknowledge, conceptualize and integrate it into critical enquiry, still perplexes feminist film criticism like no other. Despite working within the big-budget studio structures and strictures Meyers has (albeit she has said she commands autonomy within them), and despite the reputation this filmmaking context has for cultivating safely staid film product, I want to argue again here that Meyers ‘zeitgeist-tapping’ work (Rickey, 2015) has nevertheless continually and consciously engaged with the shifting gender politics of her times. She has done so often in reflective and thoughtprovoking ways, which is not to say unambiguously ‘feminist’ ways.

12

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

121

Indeed, given the length of her Hollywood career, her films trace an intriguing series of snapshots, inflecting different aspects of this landscape at different times in her oeuvre, but often suggesting a particular thematic interest in the questions of women’s work, the relationship between romantic and professional fulfilment, and latterly the experiences of ageing. Given that one of the professed objectives of feminist film scholarship has long been to challenge the male-dominated canon and discover or rediscover women practitioners and filmmakers left out of standard film histories, the discipline’s relative neglect of Meyers might risk seeming remiss, even something of an own goal. As Shelley Cobb cogently argues, ‘[for] feminist academics our main weapon against complacency  – in the face of the low numbers of women who get to make films and the potential exclusion of those films from canonical histories – is to write about films made by women’ (2015: 3). Yet clearly some women filmmakers have been deemed more appropriate subjects for attention than others. While certain women directors broadly of Meyers’s generation have now, very encouragingly, been the subject of multiple detailed studies (for example, the numerous essays, monographs and collections available on Chantal Akerman, Sally Potter, and Jane Campion), it appears that feminist film scholarship has mostly determined to date that Meyers has nothing of interest to say to, or for, it. Meyers’s work, then, seems to crystallize a series of tensions for feminist film criticism, that exist between navigating the pleasures that at least some women audiences evidently find in mainstream cinema, and the desire to locate a readily self-conscious, overtly politicized, or otherwise critically (formally, aesthetically, thematically) reflexive impulse in the work of women filmmakers. Furthermore, alongside this, until fairly recently, critical work elsewhere within Film Studies on popular cinema and Hollywood, and within genre studies in particular, has had relatively little interest in examining romantic comedy and ‘chick flicks’,2 so that in these strands of film scholarship too, the potential to recognize Meyers has not been fostered historically.3 Hence, over the course of a career lasting more than three decades, to date Meyers has failed to be appropriately or adequately ‘written into’ any of the film histories she could rightfully lay claim to being part of, to adopt Janet McCabe’s term (2004)  – a process of marginalization which this chapter now seeks both to explore and redress.

12

122

NANCY MEYERS

‘Writing in’ the un(der) written: Authorship, feminism and the Nancy Meyers problem It is not my intention in what follows to produce a lengthy critical overview of the history of authorship or auteurism in Film Studies as a preamble to discussing Meyers’s own auteur status. Such a digest lies beyond the scope of this book, and has already been widely rehearsed elsewhere, being accessible in greater detail in such collections as Caughie (1981) and Grant (2008). Instead, by way of a contextualizing summary I  want to draw on Karen Hollinger’s helpful synopsis, which points to key moments particularly in the early evolution of auteurism and provides a useful precis of a much discussed premise: The idea of the director as the auteur (author) of a film began in the 1950s and 1960s with French New Wave filmmakers, most notably with Francois Truffaut’s polemical 1954 essay ‘Une certain tendance du cinéma français’ (‘A Certain Tendency in French Cinema’). For French New Wave theorists the concept of the auteur was a way to establish the film director as the individual creative force behind a film and to see film not as a mere entertainment vehicle, but the unique personal achievement of an individual artist. (Hollinger, 2012: 230) Indeed, the image of the singular artistic visionary promoted here is an approach that prefigures film, drawing as it does on traditions long established in literature and across the arts, though in fact Truffaut et al. in part devised their elevation of the director to auteur as a way to wrestle primacy away from writers in French cinema. Meyers’s long career as both screenwriter and director makes her an interesting and rich entity for potential auteurist discussion, then. One may turn both to the films she worked on as a co-writer and producer before becoming a director to look for the early traces of her authorship, an approach which essentially challenges the sovereignty of the director’s vision; and one can examine her later work as a writer-director-producer as an instance of a Hollywood filmmaker whose triple-hyphenate status has arguably

123

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

123

bestowed a heightened capacity to influence the film text across multiple vantages, situating her as a director supremely well placed within contemporary mainstream US cinema to bring their ‘individual creative force’ to bear. Hollinger goes on to explain how, in 1968, US critic Andrew Sarris [set] out to establish a pantheon of notable directors who could be said to have placed their personal artistic stamp on their films even if they were working under the limitations imposed upon them by the studio system. To study film from an auteurist perspective involves looking at a director’s body of work to ascertain narrative, thematic and stylistic patterns that provide evidence of the directors’ personal artistic touch. This auteurist stamp might be found in plot conventions and formulas, recurring themes, shot construction, camera work and other elements of film structure repeated throughout a director’s films and said to reveal a distinctive style and overarching thematic interests. Once this signature auteurist stamp has been determined it can be used as an evaluative tool that allows the films of an auteur to be marked as superior to those produced by directors considered only to be on the artisan level. (Hollinger, 2012: 230) Suffice to say here that since it was first proposed, the concept of the director as the ‘author’ in cinema – of this single figure as comprising the supreme creative vision behind the film text – has for many decades constituted a persistent and enticing approach to thinking about cinema and film, about the pleasures that lie therein and the manner in which movies circulate and produce meanings. At the same time, as noted in the Introduction, the shortcomings of ‘auteur theory’ (for Sarris elevated it to such) were never too difficult to see, as an approach which champions the creative primacy of an individual figure working in what is a collaborative art while also playing down ‘crucial aspects of the film text, such as its social, historical, ideological, generic and production contexts’ (Hollinger, 2012: 230), though auteur-structuralism endeavoured to account for this. Still it has proven remarkably durable even while it has gone in and out of fashion alongside other approaches and while having been subject to critical problematizing and denunciation, not least by Roland Barthes’s pronouncement of

124

124

NANCY MEYERS

‘The Death of the Author’ in 1968. Furthermore, and crucially for the purposes of this discussion, it is also an approach which has been popularized and overwhelmingly populated by the discussion of men.4 As Sean Redmond and I  have argued elsewhere in discussing Kathryn Bigelow and the traditions of authorship, ‘The romantic idea of the very best painters, poets, writers and musicians as creative geniuses, misunderstood artists struggling to capture something unique, troubling or eternal about the human condition has been a long-standing part of socio-cultural discourses about the meaning and the place of art and artists within society’ (2003: 1). There remains something enduringly attractive about such a conception and the idea(l) of the talented and singular artist able to stand apart from others and record something exceptional that speaks to us in uncommon ways. But since these ‘socio-cultural discourses’ have, at least until relatively recently, been overwhelmingly traced by men, and since the conditions of culture through much of history have been ones which conspired, first, against women’s creative production and participation in recognized modes and spaces and, second, against recognizing women’s creative production outside of these structures as being ‘art’, the histories of all the art forms alluded to above, like film, have overwhelmingly been histories of men. As noted previously, feminist film analysis might seek to counter all this in a variety of ways, including refusing to play ball with the concept of the auteur per se. And yet, there is a knotty push-pull tension that lingers here, in the understandable desire to ensure that those women who did manage or who are managing against the odds to produce the necessary body of work through which auteur status is conferred do actually get that recognition accorded to them (historically extending to the ‘writing in’ of key women filmmakers such as Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, for example, and more recently increasingly also to early pioneer Alice Guy Blaché). Where feminist auteurist criticism has been pursued, as Hollinger notes, the object of study itself is not necessarily agreed on. Rather, ‘it has raised a number of theoretical issues important to feminist film studies, the first of which deals with the very definition of women’s cinema. What does female auteurship mean in feminist terms? Should feminist critics study every female filmmaker and consider her work part of women’s cinema or should they limit themselves to those whose work can be clearly designated

125

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

125

as feminist? And what exactly constitutes a feminist film anyway?’ (Hollinger, 2012: 234). To add even more queries to Hollinger’s list, does the feminist film scholar thus become part of the problem, then, a colluder in the patriarchal structures that have informed the modelling of history, when she herself writes a history of a woman director that points to how the woman in question has been wrongly ‘left out’ of the (male-dominated) roll call? As Sophie Mayer has summarized it, ‘Authorship, like box-office success, is at once crucial to coverage and circulation for feminist cinema, and deeply problematic, invoking Default Man models of solitary genius’ (2016:  16).5 Hence there is a double-bind at work here for the feminist film scholar examining the work of women filmmakers that seems quite impossible to escape  – in which she is compelled to chart the masculinist history of authorship, on the one hand, while compelled too to champion the work of individual women directors – since writing an account of this nature almost inevitably means adopting some of the very frameworks that have worked against the interests of women practitioners to begin with. Jane Gaines points to this conundrum with regard to Judith Mayne’s (1990) influential work on the once ‘lost’ classical Hollywood woman director Dorothy Arzner, who was the subject of (re)discovery by feminist films scholars commencing in the 1970s. Gaines observes that Mayne’s project entailed demonstrating that ‘Arzner is not a traditional auteur’, being a director who diverged from the common kinds of evidence generally sought by (male-defined) auteurism, and one whose lesbianism had instead, Mayne argues, brought a different kind of ‘signature’ to bear (Gaines, 2002:  92). In a description that could be lifted from Arzner and applied today to Meyers with striking ease, Mayne contends that Arzner was left out in the cold in the heyday of auteurist criticism since her work ‘demonstrated little of the flourish of mise-en-scène that auteurists attributed to other directors’ and the ‘preoccupations’ visible in her work lay outside those ‘that tended to define the range of more “properly” auteurist themes’ (Mayne, 1990: 98–9). Hence, Gaines observes, ‘The challenge for Mayne was to open up a serious new consideration of Arzner’s work without falling back on auteur methodologies . . . [Arzner] is not an auteur’s auteur. Still, Mayne needs to reserve some notion of authorship in order to discuss how it is

126

126

NANCY MEYERS

that Arzner’s work diverges from that of male directors. The very rationale for her project is at stake here’ (Gaines, 2002: 92). More than two decades on from Mayne’s work on Arzner, Gaines’s description of it remains prescient, since the ‘challenge’ she invokes persists for feminist projects seeking to bring recognition to individual women directors. Like Arzner, then, Meyers’s auteurism does not entail the kind of imposing ‘flourishes’ or ‘serious’ auteur-friendly themes that traditional (masculine-led) authorship has applauded. With her predilection for simple shot/ reverse-shot sequences that pull no surprises and draw no attention to their construction, it is never Meyers’s intention to discombobulate the spectator through self-conscious artifice; she is ‘[not a] pioneer of camera angles a la the Hitchcock Zoom’, as Sims observes (2014: 193). Still, echoing that passing instant in interview where Meyers remarked in seeming frustration that she does ‘have the same job as Tarantino’ (Bayou, 2013), there is a fleeting but very telling moment in The Holiday which suggests Meyers is nevertheless all too aware of the greater regard enjoyed by her male peers who have been ascribed auteur status, and the kinds of cinematic ‘flourishes’ it has taken them to win this. Cutting her latest film trailer, Amanda (Cameron Diaz) decides that the font on the title reading ‘Christmas Day’ is not quite right, and tells her assistant to make it twice the size and ‘try it in a red. Like, a happy red, not a Scorsese red’. Keeping with the film’s self-reflexive impulse, in this passing comment The Holiday gives a nod to the workings of film authorship, but in a manner which importantly underlines the ‘masculinity’ often resonant in it. The notion of a ‘Scorsese red’ acknowledges how auteurism is frequently about a visceral sense of ‘style’, about reproducing something memorably violent to the senses (which is not to say that only men can produce such a style). Significantly, ‘Scorsese red’ is positively not a ‘happy red’, suggesting his auteur status has been won through an approach to filmmaking which is about somehow or other perturbing the audience – an impulse which is the seeming antithesis of ‘Nancy Meyers’, with her invitingly restful interiors and hopeful outlook on the world. As Nochimson notes, ‘muscular filmmaking’ with its more obvious ‘hand-held cameras and flashy cuts’ continues to be more readily received as a bravura cinema worthy of awards and recognition (Nochimson, 2010). Against this, the often more quietly attentive detail and style of an approach like Meyers’s, with its long scenes,

127

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

127

dialogue-heavy scenarios and unobtrusive camerawork, is judged forgettable, when in fact the seeming ‘artlessness’ of her films could alternatively be understood as a/her talent, and indeed a key source of pleasure for her audiences. Instead, the frequent ‘lightness’ of her touch is collapsed pejoratively into ‘lightweight’, again making her films easy to dismiss. The issue, then, is not whether there are fundamental shortcomings with auteurism as an approach to film. Nor is it whether auteurism’s problems have been even more acutely and damningly felt with regard to the work of women directors, something their absence from landmark accounts of film authorship, notwithstanding the fact of their limited numbers to begin with, has forcefully shown. All this we can take as given. Rather, perhaps, the issue is that even as we continue to doubt the substance of auteurism, to critique it, problematize it, while at the same time feel its charms, return to its romantic appeal, and bear witness to its ongoing significance in an industry that promotes and greenlights films at least in part via the allure of auteur-directors, the marginalization of women directors like Meyers will prevail as long as they continue to be left out of the contested process of receiving/gaining auteur status. None of this is to say the answer is simply that feminist film criticism should make it its business to ‘rescue’ Meyers, or to undermine the important strategic approaches that have guided so much feminist film criticism to date. Rather it is to say there is scope to pursue manifold and differently inflected lines of feminist enquiry within film scholarship; and that this can and should include more substantial attention at this time to a rare instance of a contemporary American woman auteur with a long career who, somewhat awkwardly, happens to make mainstream movies which generate large profits in/for the Hollywood studios. Claire Johnston cautioned against the pursuit of a delimited strategy for ‘[challenging] male privilege in the film industry’ in 1973, arguing that there was scope to reconcile the notions of the individual woman filmmaker and of ‘entertainment film’ with feminist practice and ‘political ideas’ (Johnston, 1973: 31). It is a perspective worth returning to again here, for the manner in which it provides apt counsel too for the need for multiply inflected feminist criticism when she argues:  ‘A repressive, moralistic assertion that women’s cinema is collective film-making is misleading and unnecessary: we should seek to operate at all levels:  within the male-dominated cinema and outside it’

128

128

NANCY MEYERS

(ibid., my emphasis). And so it is with the caveats outlined here in place that this chapter both wishes to underscore the chequered history of auteurism and its deeply problematical import for feminist theory in particular, while also pointing to how, should one wish to, it is entirely possible to add Meyers to its roll-call.

‘A very girl empowering movie’: Meyers and The Parent Trap To flesh out this position I  want to turn to The Parent Trap and The Intern, these being Meyers’s first and, at the time of writing, most recent films. They thus serve as appropriate bookends for discussing her oeuvre, but furthermore, interestingly both constitute films which don’t at first glance promise to sit as neatly as others within that oeuvre as it is commonly pictured, since neither fit the ‘true romantic comedy’ model (Legel, 2008)  she has become so imbricated with by critics. Indeed, it seems pertinent to start the chapter’s textual discussion of Meyers’s authorship with The Parent Trap for a number of reasons. First, the story of 11-yearold twin girls separated as babies by their divorcing parents, who grow up not knowing that they have a sibling (and an additional parent) until they serendipitously meet at summer camp and plot to reunite their family was, as noted, Meyers’s directorial debut. Second, within the already limited academic work on Meyers that exists per se, it has received only the most fleeting mention, I would suggest largely because, as noted, it doesn’t immediately look likely to ‘fit’ with dominant conceptions of her oeuvre; hence this chapter seeks to subject it to greater consideration than it has had to date. Finally, it promises to be an intriguing text for analysis precisely because it appears to be a tricky one with which to speak about Meyers’s authorship; generically it is, after all, usually situated as a children’s or family film with some grown-up appeal, rather than a self-evident ‘chick flick’ of the sort Meyers is so readily associated with. Furthermore, it is a remake, of a much cherished film, and thus it starts from a position of being very clearly indebted to the vision of others preceding her. Prescient questions to ask here, then, might include, not only how does this film ‘work’ for understanding Meyers’s authorship, despite its absence from criticism and without

129

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

129

it having to be shoe-horned in, but also, why might she have chosen to tell this (already told) story in her first film? As noted, Meyers was seemingly progenitor of the decision to reboot The Parent Trap, approaching Disney herself to ask if they would be interested in a remake (Lewis, 2010: 125; BAFTA, 2015), and she has spoken about how her enthusiasm for the project sprang both from her own love of the original as a child, and subsequently her daughters’ love of it; ‘I was 10 when The Parent Trap came out, I loved The Parent Trap, loved it, loved it, loved it. It’s a very girl empowering movie’ (BAFTA, 2015). In the press kit produced by Walt Disney Pictures to publicize the film, she details how this heartfelt affection for the film was shared by her daughters:  ‘When each of my two daughters hit about 7  years old, the video of the original “The Parent Trap” played on a continuous loop in our house . . . Each time, I found myself being drawn into it. I’d crawl under the covers with the girls and watch it with them time and again’ (Walt Disney, 1998). Indeed, their shared crossgenerational connection to the film is suggested by the fact that Meyers and Shyer renamed the twins in the film ‘Hallie’ and ‘Annie’ after their own daughters. Based on Erich Kästner’s 1949 German novel Das doppelte Lottchen, Meyers’s version remains loyal to the somewhat fantastical elements that form the foundation of the original tale. The audience is asked to make a quite considerable leap in their suspension of disbelief  – accepting a premise where the exposure of two estranged parents as having colluded to separate twin daughters is overcome with apparent ease by a fractured family who seemingly bear no emotional scars from these years of deceit. Furthermore, the audience must accept this without making judgement of the architects of the plan if the film’s denouement is to work, even though as Hallie eventually puts it to her mother, ‘His ’n hers kids? No offense mom, but this arrangement really sucks’. Keeping its fantasy intact, at its heart the film also realizes a habitual children’s reverie, one which imagines what it would be like to get the sibling one has daydreamed about, perhaps longed for; ‘I’m not an only child. I’m a twin, I’m a twin. There’s two of me, I mean, two of us!’ Hallie exclaims joyfully on grasping who Annie really is. Still it might be said that The Parent Trap fulfils Meyers’s familiar approach of bringing escapist pleasure to bear on what are, albeit rendered in diverting form, ‘real life’ challenges that audiences have likely experienced: relationships that break down, changes wrought

130

130

NANCY MEYERS

by growing older, the complications of family life. As Meyers has said, ‘I think I’m telling stories and writing characters the audience can relate to. I think that’s why they seem to be working. I want to make comedies about real life: marriage, divorce, work, family, aging, heartbreak, falling in love . . . ’ (Ramshaw, 2016). Furthermore, it would be rash indeed to presume that the film’s status as a remake of a popular 1961 Disney/children’s film makes it tangential to Meyers’s status as a contemporary filmmaker whose work is so imbricated in cinema’s ‘popular feminism’ (Glitre, 2011). As Meyers has noted, ‘The daughters, the two girls make everything happen’ (BAFTA, 2015; my emphasis) and for this attention to female agency, if nothing else, the film belongs importantly to any discussion of Meyers’s authorship and oeuvre. This unusual conferral of the narrative reins to such young girl protagonists in a major feature film is as striking, true and significant of the original as it is of Meyers’s remake, with Hayley Mills’s 1961 performance being described by one review as ‘an early feminist role model for girls’ (Schwarzbaum, 1998). It is this feature – this unusual privileging of a girl’s point of view and experiences (which here again belong squarely to the white, privileged world of all of Meyers’s protagonists)  – that provides a persuasive rationale for both the tale’s enduring popularity and Meyers’s interest in remaking the original film. Indeed, it gives substance to a notion that through the course of her career, Meyers’s films have traced the perspectives of women across the life course: from the pre-teens of The Parent Trap exerting early agency over their destinies; to the twenty-something breaking out into a still uncertain adulthood (Private Benjamin); to the thirty-something forging her way in the workplace and in the taxing world of relationships, sometimes with the demands of parenting and family life exerting further pressures along the way (Baby Boom, What Women Want, The Holiday, The Intern and indeed The Parent Trap again); through to the ‘woman of a certain age’, recalibrating, post-divorce, after her children have grown up, still with plenty of experiences and stories yet to unfold (Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated). Furthermore, there is a generic looseness to the film which (like Private Benjamin as previously discussed) shifts gear quite strikingly over the course of its duration and gives weight again to Deleyto’s (2009) argument that we must recognize the flexibility of romcom and the breadth of ways it may be utilized. At just over two

13

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

131

hours The Parent Trap was widely reprimanded for being, again, ‘too long’. Over the course of its 128 minutes it moves initially from a more evidently children/family film format, with its kid-led escapades and frequently slapstick comic scenes at the summer camp (features renewed later in the girls’ camping expedition exploits), through to something at times more closely resembling a screwball comedy of remarriage in the latter part, as the twins plot inventively to see their parents reunited and sabotage Nick’s impending nuptials to his manipulative fiancée Meredith (Elaine Hendrix). Here, the film prefigures what will come to be seen as Meyers’s signature ‘gerontocom’ interest in the experiential landscape of divorce and romance and the gendered inequities of ageing and dating, particularly anticipating Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated. Nick has allowed himself to be seduced by a younger woman who at 26 is considerably his junior (‘Only 15  years older than me. How old are you again dad?’ asks Annie in faux innocence). Annie pretends to misunderstand the nature of the pair’s relationship, applauding her father for wanting to adopt Meredith when he tells her she is going to become ‘part of the family’. She is subsequently incensed when he confirms he and Meredith are engaged, exclaiming, ‘Marry her? That’s insane! How can you marry a woman young enough to be my big sister?’, foreshadowing Marin’s despair at her father’s marriage to a woman barely older than she is in Something’s Gotta Give. Importantly, then, in different ways numerous reviewers noted that the appeal of the film was not limited solely to a youth audience, or in particular to pre-teen girls, but was cross-generational. The New  Yorker, for example, noting Meyers’s characteristically elegant and desirable mise-en-scène postulated that ‘Meyers seems to be aiming at an audience of acquisitive baby boomers, not kids: she makes us salivate over china and lush gardens’ (Kerr, 1998); while Newsweek observed, ‘This film has everything for the all-important female audience:  feisty heroines, lots of slapstick, great clothes’ (Shapiro and Brown, 1998). As a remake of such a treasured film, The Parent Trap also offered the potential for nostalgic appeal to/for past audiences of the original simply by the fact of its being. In her review for Slate, for example, Nell Minow remarks that for her the original film was ‘not only a key movie experience, but a key life experience’ (1998). Intertextual references to the 1961 film thus offer satisfying ‘insider’ pleasures to the older audience,

132

132

NANCY MEYERS

who will recall the tune Hallie sings by the elevator at their San Francisco hotel (‘Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah’) as the hit song Hayley Mills performed in the first film; and they will recognize that Meredith’s mother Vicki is played by Joanna Barnes, the actor who played the original gold-digging ‘Meredith’, also named Vicki, in the 1961 version. In offering these diverse points of appeal while always ensuring that it is Hallie and Annie who ‘have total control of the destiny of their family’ (Meyers at BAFTA, 2015), The Parent Trap adheres firmly to Meyers’s insistence that ‘women’s stories and our point of view and our experiences are vital stories to tell for men, women and kids’ (Ramshaw, 2016). Meyers has indicated that it was important to her to remain true to the original The Parent Trap, since to her mind if a certain sense of loyalty does not guide one when producing a remake, there seems little point in returning to a pre-existing text at all; ‘the lesson in a remake, I’m sure it’s the same in adapting a book, is don’t go too far off it, right? Modernise it but don’t change it radically because what’s the point? Make an original movie then’ (BAFTA, 2015). As part of her ‘modernizing’ here, Meyers gives the film a new international bent, by having the girls split across London and Napa, in a manner that anticipates the transatlantic house-swap of The Holiday. Furthermore, in keeping with the advances of the woman’s movement and the impact of feminism over the interim period since 1961, she ensures that the women in her updated vision are now visibly framed as working women. Even gold-digging Meredith, then, whose cold persona as a harmful intruder in the family prefigures Agness in It’s Complicated, has evidently established an entrepreneurial career as a publicist despite being out to get Nick’s fortune. And importantly, significant screen time is devoted to establishing Elizabeth’s profession as a much sought after, high-end wedding dress designer. As the next chapter explores in greater detail, the figure of the working woman is absolutely essential to understanding Meyers’s oeuvre, an archetype that speaks to Meyers’s mode of feminist principles, while at the same time the detail of this figure’s labour is often drawn in such a sketchily idealized fashion that it sometimes becomes difficult to understand it as constituting actual ‘work’. So too does Meyers delineate a narrow vision of the contemporary working woman, promoting ‘that icon of the postfeminist era  – the independent (white, middle-class) woman with a

13

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

133

successful professional career’ (Glitre, 2011: 17) whose labour is far removed from the kind of low-paid, low-esteem employment that so many women (and particularly women of colour) actually toil at. So while Annie tells Hallie that her mother’s professional status has made her ‘quite famous’, and Meredith is clearly awestruck when she realizes who Elizabeth is, the substance of the actual labour the audience witness when Elizabeth takes Hallie to her studio (a central London atelier which speaks to her international repute and esteem) basically consists of her helping style a glamorous photo shoot. As with certain other of Meyers’s heroines, this vision of (feminine creative) ‘work’ seems not far removed from ‘leisure’, as she instructs the model what to do with the veil and how to pose, while Hallie joins in, exclaiming, ‘My mum is too cool!’ It is a sequence that essentially constitutes a chick flick dress-up/makeover montage, and its inclusion points once more to the film’s generic permeability, as it comes to constitute a children’s/family-film-cum-romcom. And one wonders whether Meyers is again in some way rather idyllically ‘writing what she knows’, here as a working mother who often brought her own children to work with her on set (while incorporating what is surely a certain working mother’s fantasy  – namely, to have her children declare that her (having to go to) work makes her ‘too cool!’). But more broadly, the film underlines how from the off in Meyers’s body of work the working woman is such a significant, desirable and staple entity. In a subtle but noteworthy shift from the original film where Maggie (Maureen O’Hara) appears to have been living as a dependent with her parents, Elizabeth’s evident accomplishments since her divorce mean that, even though she lives in a three-generation household with her father, when she reconnects with Nick she does so more tangibly as his equal. (‘We both actually got where we wanted to go’, she tells him, rather prefiguring Jake’s observation to Jane in It’s Complicated that years after their divorce, they have finally grown into the people they wanted (each other) to be). It might be said too that Nick’s work is also hazily drawn; he owns a magnificent vineyard but we mainly see him on his estate horse-riding, or picking out what bottle of wine to drink next, so that this general inattention to the everyday detail or tiresome stresses of the workplace can be said to be simply part of the pact the audience often expects to enter into when

134

134

NANCY MEYERS

watching much (though not all) romantic comedy. Nevertheless, the stakes are unavoidably higher when women’s work is represented; as Glitre puts it, ‘The success of an individual woman – on screen or off – should never be mistaken for the achievement of feminism’s goals’ (2011: 28). But the film is important too in demonstrating that now as a director Meyers would cultivate a reputation for striking, opulent, upscale interiors, shot, framed and lit with a polish that adds a glossy finish to all her films. As with The Holiday, The Parent Trap’s transatlantic setting entailed the creation of two very distinct but equally desirable homes, the sprawling Napa Valley villa and vineyard where Hallie and her father live, versus the elegant Victorian London townhouse in Chelsea where Annie lives with her mother and grandfather. Filmed on location at the Staglin Family vineyard, the press kit for The Parent Trap sounds like an extract from a realtor sales-pitch as it reveals that Hallie and Nick’s home ‘sits on 62 acres of hillside above the wine-making community of

FIGURE 3.2 Hallie (Lindsay Lohan) ‘at work’ in a photoshoot at her mother’s designer wedding dress studio in The Parent Trap, delivering the playful dress-up montage seen in countless ‘chick flicks’.

135

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

135

Rutherford . . . it is consistently rated as one of the top five vineyards in California. The house reflects the family’s interest in wine and art . . . Designed as a classic Tuscan villa, the 9,000 square foot home features a multi-colored (a color blend that matches the local Rutherford dust) tile roof, country pine woodwork with whitewash accent, and terra cotta floors in wood colors that stretch indoors and out’ (Walt Disney, 1998). Meanwhile, the exterior for Annie’s home was shot at 23 Egerton Terrace SW3, one of the most exclusive and expensive streets in London, and Instagram and Pinterest reveal a lively fan pilgrimage tradition of visiting the location to have one’s photo taken there. These aspirational homes, the level of detail accorded to fleshing them out and the screen-time given over to savouring them all speak again to how the film offers certain escapist pleasures to adults as much as children, as designer Dean Tavoularis, known for his work on such celebrated films as The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979), ‘does his usual magnificent job’ (Minow, 1998). In doing so, The Parent Trap set the stage for what would become Meyers’s signature ability to create a mise-en-scène of aspiration – a visual style and an approach to cinematic pleasure across her work that has ensured that the refined ‘look’ of her films has become their most consistently scrutinized quality. As Adrian Martin (2014) has noted, the term ‘mise-en-scène’ can be more ambiguous in its usage and its definitions more differently inflected than is sometimes recognized. The enduring ‘classroom favourite’ he points to, namely, the definition provided by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson in their Film Art, retains a usefulness. In their words, drawing on an original French stage term, ‘film scholars, extending the term to film direction as well, use the term to signify the director’s control over what appears in the film frame . . . [including] setting, lighting, costume and the behaviour of the figures. In controlling the mise-en-scène, the director stages the event for the camera’ (Bordwell and Thompson, 1979, p.75) (cited in Martin, 2014: 14). But beyond this definition, crucially, as Martin elaborates, ‘Mise en scène can transform the elements of a given scene; it can transform a narrative’s destination; it can transform our mood or our understanding as we experience the film. Style is not a supplement to content; it makes content’ (Martin, 2014: 19– 20). Meyers’s drive from the onset to use mise-en-scène in just such a fashion has ensured it is central to her manner of directing. This

136

136

NANCY MEYERS

almost sensory approach, along with her familiar attention to the stories and desires of women (more particularly here, those of two 11-year-old girls); the travails of relationships, families and breakups; adult protagonists who come to relationships with experience and baggage; and the figure of the working woman for whom work is both financially and emotionally or psychologically rewarding however abstracted the depictions of her labour, all suggest that far from being only an entertaining Disney remake, The Parent Trap actually enabled Meyers to cut her teeth on many of the preoccupations that have come to make for ‘a Nancy Meyers movie’.

‘Love and work, work and love. That’s all there is’: The Intern The Intern, like The Parent Trap with its child-driven adventure narrative, might not on first consideration seem to sit quite as neatly as some of her other movies within the foremost expectations of a ‘Nancy Meyers movie’, since it was a film in which Meyers very consciously chose to move away from deliberating over romance. In the DVD release’s short bonus feature, ‘Learning from Experience’ (2015), Meyers looks back on her films leading up to The Intern, namely Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated, and remarks, ‘There was a lot about complicated love relationships and I felt kind of done in that area. But I do write movies about people and relationships, and there are other kinds of relationship other than romantic ones you know. So I thought, “Yeah, not a love story”. It’s a friendship’. Yet The Intern can be likened to 2003’s Something’s Gotta Give quite readily, in that here again Meyers boldly makes a film driven by a desire to make its central relationship of a kind rarely seen or explored in mainstream Hollywood. Where Something’s Gotta Give did this by making a later-life romance its subject, The Intern places the rarely examined landscape of an intergenerational crossgendered friendship at its centre, when high-achieving fashion startup boss Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) hires Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro), a 70-year-old retired phone book company manager, to become an intern in her Brooklyn-based fashion company’s ‘senior’ (citizen) intern scheme. The film offers plenty of humour and scenes

137

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

137

FIGURES 3.3 & 3.4 ‘Not a love story’: The Intern DVD features Nancy Meyers discussing the retreat from romantic relationships in the film, and captures her at work on set.

of slapstick along the way, notably as Meyers’s professed admiration for Judd Apatow (see Larocca, 2015: 38) seems to make itself felt here when she branches out into an uncharacteristic ‘bromance’ thread (although this admiration sits somewhat oddly with the sneaking disdain the film expresses for slacker-ish looking young men who ‘don’t tuck anything in’ when they dress anymore). In

138

138

NANCY MEYERS

what looks to have been a very intentional ‘new’ inflection in her work designed to help the film speak to as broad an audience as possible, this bromantic angle includes a clumsily executed ‘heist’ scene that self-consciously directly invokes the Ocean’s Eleven series, and in which Ben and his millennial co-workers break into Jules’s mother’s house in order to intercept an insulting email sent to her in error by Jules. At the same time, again like Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated particularly, the film refuses a narrative of ageingas-decline or to mine condescending laughs from the potential of this, while containing occasional moments of meditative reflection on the experiences of ageing. This time round this is done more concertedly than heretofore via the insights of a male protagonist, namely, Ben, who being 70 and now in retirement also offers a more advanced perspective on ageing than seen in Meyers’s earlier films (it is bereavement and not divorce or compulsive serial dating that provides the back-story to his single status). The most striking instance of the film’s capacity to speak frankly to some of the changes wrought by growing older arguably comes right at the start of the film. As the opening shot pans down from the sky to survey a group of people practicing tai-chi in a park, in familiar Meyers’s fashion, an introductory voiceover begins: ‘Freud said, “Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is”. Well, I’m retired and my wife is dead.’ Cutting to De Niro in a piece to camera, his monologue goes on, I miss her in every way. And retirement? That is an ongoing relentless effort in creativity. At first, I admit I enjoyed the novelty of it. Sort of felt like I was playing hooky. I used all the miles I’d saved and travelled the globe. The problem was, no matter where I went, as soon as I got home, the nowhere-to-be thing hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized the key to this whole deal was to keep moving. Get up, get out of the house, and go somewhere. Anywhere. An account of Ben’s post-bereavement disassembled life follows, and the voiceover eventually falls away as we understand that when he speaks to camera here he is literally speaking to a camera in the film itself, recording a filmed job application in order to re-enter the ranks of the workforce and join the senior intern programme at

139

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

139

‘About the Fit’. Ben’s problems speak, as always in Meyers’s films, to the kinds of problems many might envy; his professional working life has evidently left him comfortable enough to seem chiefly preoccupied over which adult education class to try next, rather than how to make his rent now he is single and unsalaried. Similarly the rift in the Ostin household, precipitated by Matt’s (Anders Holm) crisis at becoming a stay-at-home dad when Jules’s business rapidly takes off, is removed from anything that the majority of families in which two parents work as a matter of basic necessity rather than choice ever have to contemplate. Still, there is the nugget of something very human in Ben’s disarming opening speech which might be said to transcend many elements of class and culture, as Ben ponders how to cope with bereavement, how to adjust to a different kind of being once one’s regular occupation or work-life, whatever that has been, comes to an end, and how to maintain or reconfigure one’s sense of identity, purpose and pleasure in life as one ages and one’s relationship with the world changes. In keeping with what she has said about her previous work, this was again a ‘personal’ film for Meyers, coming at a time in her life when she was pondering many of these very issues, as she explained in interview: ‘The movies I make are all personal. For 30-some years, I’ve been making movies that really reflect not only the time I live in but what’s going on around me. When I did Baby Boom in the Eighties, I was a brand-new mom and was trying to figure that out. At this point in my life, I’m not retired, but I know what’s coming. I’m thinking about that’ (Tory Burch, 2015). In fact, from the very beginning of her career, one might say, the arresting quote drawn from Freud at the start of The Intern – ‘Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is’ – could be thought of as the guiding principle that has informed all Nancy Meyers’s films. But here Meyers underlines how ‘love’ need not be understood merely as romantic love. Despite steering away from a romantic narrative, still The Intern can be readily positioned as ‘a Nancy Meyers film’ in other ways – perhaps most pointedly for its continuing reflection on ‘the-womanat-her-desk’, and the ever-shifting landscape of gender politics and male-female relationships. It reprises another workplace dramedy and a ‘mumpreneur’ protagonist in the vein of 1987’s Baby Boom, though we have moved on a generation here  – Jules Ostin constitutes a new kind of twenty-first century J. C. Wiatt in that her business is facilitated particularly by the opportunities arising from

140

140

NANCY MEYERS

e-commerce and online retail, platforms not yet imagined in the 1980s. Furthermore, for Meyers it was particularly important that the film mark women’s progress by making Jules the boss of her own company, and moreover a woman who is a working mother, and happy to be one, from the onset. Interviewing Meyers for New York magazine as the film was released, Amy Larocca notes, ‘The Intern is quite a feminist movie . . . she’s off to work and she loves her daughter and she’s very confident in that. That’s something you don’t see depicted very often. It’s always the working mother is a mess . . . ’, to which Meyers responds, in rather sweeping terms it must be said, by again invoking Baby Boom; ‘In that movie the mother was torn. It was hard on her. She was an employee . . . This is 2015, and in 2015 I would not have thought of making her an employee . . . there are no issues at work. To me, we have moved beyond that’ (Larocca, 2015: 34). But Jules is nevertheless ‘daughter’ to J. C., bearing ready comparison to her on numerous fronts; J. C.’s nervous tics and ampedup energy are here supplanted by Jules’s compulsive hand-sanitizer usage (one of Meyers’s own professed fixations) and her OCD-style air-travel ritual, for example, while as Ben says of her, in a description that could have been lifted from a character synopsis of J. C. (or indeed Darcy from What Women Want), ‘She works on all cylinders all the time. Doesn’t stop, doesn’t sleep, never see her eat’. Jules is certainly not a readily likeable figure, especially not when contrasted against Ben’s benevolent presence, and when played by Hathaway one might add – an actor who has been the subject of such media contempt that the vitriolic anti-fandom surrounding her spawned the term ‘Hathahate’. For example, Jules signally fails to acknowledge how despite suffering the stresses of an unmanageable workload herself she is sustaining a culture of work-life imbalance by overburdening her dedicated young assistant. Still, Hollywood could arguably do with more women protagonists in possession of potentially troubling flaws, rather than more one-dimensionality. Furthermore, the ‘quite’ in Larocca’s description of The Intern as being ‘quite a feminist movie’ is telling, hinting again at the uncertain ambivalences that feminist readings of Meyers frequently hit up against, just as happened with Baby Boom in 1987. It may be 2015 in The Intern, but in many ways the film leaves one asking how much has fundamentally changed for working mothers trying in one way or another to reach professional and personal parity

14

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

141

with their male counterparts since that time. However, it would certainly not have been somehow ‘more feminist’ were The Intern to have suppressed this question. This is a film which returns to the familiar, endlessly contentious, unresolved issue of whether women can ‘have it all’, and for Meyers the film is ‘absolutely a companion piece [to Baby Boom] I think . . . it’s a new world, but the problem still exists’ (BAFTA, 2015). Despite her beautiful home and loving family, her undoubted success and passion for her business, and the unquestioning support of everyone who works for her, things are not entirely rosy for Jules – nor could they be, for there to be any dramatic impetus in the film. Hence she struggles to make time for her family (and indeed to sleep) as she would like to, and her demanding schedule is unquestionably taking a toll on her marriage; while a certain ‘progress’ is suggested by the figure of the stay-at home-father, this is evidently not progress at all if he is so troubled by this role that he falls into having an affair to deal with it; and her investors believe that the business might do better if an outside CEO were brought in to oversee its expansion. One of the most debated scenes in the film comes, then, when Jules and Ben are away in San Francisco on a business trip to meet another prospective CEO. As they sit in their robes on her hotel bed, she confesses to him what he already knows: ‘I have a weird one for you. Matt is cheating on me.’ As she tries to fathom how this could have happened or been avoided, she tells Ben tearfully, ‘I don’t want to give up on him . . . you know, so much has happened to us so fast, I think, part of me was even expecting this, like, you know he was the more successful one when we started out . . . and he bowed out so that I could do this . . . I’m sure that’s why I’m even considering this whole CEO thing, thinking maybe, someone else coming in will help me get my life back on track . . . ’. Hearing this, Ben interrupts, telling her firmly: OK, that’s it. I hate to be the feminist here between the two of us, but you should be able to have a huge career and be who you are, without having to accept that your husband is having an affair as some kind of payback. Commentators honed in on this scene (and the larger question of whether Jules is ‘punished’ for her success in an entirely reactionary fashion by Matt’s infidelity) to ask whether this was the/a moment

142

142

NANCY MEYERS

in which the fraught claims for Meyers being a filmmaker who brings a feminist impulse to bear in her work came crashing down. Was this evidence of the film’s ‘rapid descent into mansplaining’ (Henderson, 2015), in which Ben, as ‘the benign face of patriarchy’ (Dargis, 2015), gets to enlighten Jules about the work of feminism? For many commentators, it was a scene in which a man is literally given a script to expound feminism to an apparently hugely accomplished yet still regressively minded 30-something woman. So, was the film ultimately a somewhat excruciating debasement of whatever progressive political intent Meyers’s brand of ‘popular feminism’ might once have set out to achieve? – and proof that all along she has merely continued to make ‘glossy sentimental comedies that [pay] lip service to feminism but [celebrate] old fashioned bourgeois values at the core’? (Griffin, 2003). Or was this, rather more ambivalently, another feminist-minded moment – in which ‘the F-word’, so often an unnamed subtext in Meyers’s dialogues, is explicitly spoken? For Clem Bastow at The Guardian, the film’s most controversial line (‘I hate to be the feminist here . . . ’) was ‘clearly played for laughs’ (2015). And it would be entirely possible to argue here that Meyers is merely underlining

FIGURE 3.5 ‘I hate to be the feminist here’:  a concerned Ben (Robert De Niro) watches over Jules (Anne Hathaway) after their heart-to-heart in The Intern.

143

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

143

how ubiquitous and hollow certain postfeminist mantras have become in this scene when, like the progressive agony aunt in a women’s magazine, Ben tells Jules she should be entitled to have it all – while the lived conflicts of actually trying to ‘have it all’ are so evidently depicted as alive and kicking throughout the pages of that same magazine. Jules doesn’t need to be told the feminist position on all this. Not only does she already know what Ben tells her, she agrees with him. But the fact of feminism having been ‘taken into account’ (McRobbie, 2007) here in the fashion Ben points to doesn’t mean that the actual structures of the patriarchy and capitalist business model that are so at fault, or the everyday challenges still facing working mothers, have themselves truly, or sufficiently, altered. These issues, fostered by neoliberalism, may be felt importantly at the level of one’s personal relationships, rather than only in professional or institutional ones; no one Jules encounters in the workplace ever uses the fact of her gender to try to undermine her authority in any way, but still she struggles to feel accepted by the stay-at-home moms at her daughter’s school, and her crisis-stricken husband’s infidelity is seen to be prompted by becoming the primary carer for their daughter and relinquishing his status as ‘the more successful one’ in their relationship. Just as the ‘have it all’ conundrum cannot be satisfactorily quelled by The Intern, so too does it frustrate any effort to pin down the matter of Meyers’s feminist politics, as audiences might well have come to expect by now of a Nancy Meyers film. So, while for Scott Mendelson at Forbes the film was ‘unabashedly feminist’ (2015a), for Guy Lodge at Variety it was troublingly marked by ‘surprisingly conservative gender politics’ (2015). But importantly, this is not just a film about a young working woman and mother, but about an older retired man. There are no startling revelations as such about growing old here, and it was never Meyers’s intent to produce some kind of searing treatise on ageing. Nevertheless, bucking the trend of the media’s ‘silver tsunami’ stories which position ageing ‘baby-boomers’ as a demographic disaster that younger generations are being forced to shoulder, Meyers here imagines the possibilities of the ageing population and intergenerational relationships very differently to much of what is seen in popular discourse. As Ben gradually becomes as much a part of Jules’s family life as her professional life, becoming both her ‘intern and best friend’, as she puts it, Meyers constructs an environment in

14

144

NANCY MEYERS

which the older generation participates in and enhances the other, younger lives around them rather than being only a strain or drain on those lives, and in which homes, bars, playgrounds and workplaces might accommodate intergenerational exchange rather than being segregated spaces. And this is not to say only that the older generation needs proximity to the energy of ‘the young’ for society to do better, since a web of rewarding reciprocal relationships emerges across the film. Though Meyers’s implicit suggestion that a kind of ‘classic’ baby-boomer masculinity exists which is inherently superior to that of millennials’ is simplistic, Ben’s ‘old-school’ style and dating advice is nevertheless respectfully and keenly received, giving food for thought to the young men he works with; and Jules is fleetingly perplexed when she arrives unexpectedly at Ben’s house to learn not just that the new young intern Davis (Zack Pearlman) is Ben’s beaming buddy and appreciative flatmate, having started lodging with him, but that the company masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo) is just finishing breakfast there, having recently started dating Ben. In this instant, as Ben’s home is revealed to be a thriving, welcoming space and not a mournful outpost of some kind, she seems to apprehend Ben has formed an active life quite independent of the one she knows from the office. The ‘feelgood factor’ in all this, what one might call Meyers’s penchant for hopefulness despite the fact that a good deal actually remains rather unresolved at the film’s end, was for numerous critics a block to their contemplating its quite uncommon representation and outlook on ageing and intergenerationality. Inevitably, then, many reviews received the film as being predictably mollifying in the manner that a Meyers movie, with all its familiar privileged class trappings and ‘gratingly schmaltzy’ music (Farber, 2015), is instinctively presumed to be by most critics who struggle to think beyond her glossy surfaces. Hence even Richard Roeper from the Chicago Sun-Times, while enthusiastically declaring ‘I just really loved this movie’, described it as being ‘as comfortable as a nice blanket and a bowl of popcorn and a fireplace, this is just one of those movies that really is like the equivalent of comfort food’ (2015). Here he positions The Intern as a film that is enjoyable but which neither requires nor expects to prompt any critical reflection or thoughtful engagement from the viewer (while blankly drawing again on wellworn food metaphors to describe Meyers’s work in order to so).

145

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

145

And it is precisely this kind of framing that has meant that even where Meyers’s films have been warmly reviewed they have typically been framed as essentially inconsequential, and far from the kind of ‘heavyweight’ material that wins Oscars and auteur esteem. A moment in the film neatly crystallizes this when Jules rejects one of the prospective CEOs being considered for About the Fit because he referred to the company as a ‘chick-site’. In interview Larocca asks Meyers if she included this detail ‘because people have called your movies chick flicks’. ‘Sure,’ replies Meyers. ‘And somehow there’s a judgement attached to it . . . I read it in reviews or just snarky comments you can read online . . . [there’s] just not parity there, we’re not on an equal footing’ (Larocca, 2015: 34). How very apt it is, then, that in his two-star review of the film, Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian apes exactly the same trivializing perspective when he notes: ‘[It’s] hard to frown too much on a film about the struggles of working women, and Hathaway gives a strong performance, but take a step back and there’s the realization that all this sturm und drang isn’t for a surgeon, but a gal hawking schmattes’ (2015). The problem for Hoffman, then, is not that the acting is second rate, or even that the issues at the heart of the film don’t matter, but that he can’t muster up enthusiasm or interest for it given the backdrop is the ‘chick’ world of fashion. If only this working woman’s (or rather ‘gal’s’, to use his dismissively invoked pronoun) ‘struggles’ were taking place in an ER while she was dressed in scrubs! Then the film might have some value it would seem. Rather than falling back on tired presumptions about Meyers always playing it ‘safe’, or dealing with lightweight non-issues, one would do well to remember the superheroes- and franchise-driven marketplace she made the film in. If it was risky in 2003 to pursue a Hollywood movie in which a ‘middle-aged’ woman becomes the romantic heroine, it was risky again in 2015 to pursue a studio film with big name stars where a man and woman develop a relationship in which there is no romantic subtext, and where instead a quietly observed platonic intergenerational friendship lies at the core. In this sense, The Intern was not ‘safe’ filmmaking at all. Meyers has spoken frankly about how difficult it was to get The Intern made, in ways she had not experienced since becoming a director, and about how different the industry had become in the years since making It’s Complicated. As she told IndieWire:

146

146

NANCY MEYERS

It was very clear that the landscape had changed in movies, and budgets of any size weren’t really given to movies I make anymore . . . because, honestly, when was the last time you saw a movie like this from a studio? . . . they have an agenda, they need to make these tentpole movies, they want to be in the franchise business and I come along with a story about a 70-year-old man and woman running a start-up. These are not things they’re making movies about . . . I  made one last effort at the end before thinking, ‘Maybe this one isn’t going to get made,’ and Warners put on their cape and rescued me. (Erbland, 2015) Thus in an increasingly cautious market which prefers, somewhat paradoxically, to gamble big numbers on action- and effects-led blockbusters rather than to invest more modestly in mid-budget relationship-focussed movies, Meyers made The Intern in 2015 for $35m, when in 2003 she made Something’s Gotta Give on an estimated budget of $80m. With her films’ characteristic delight in the pleasures of talk and in which lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes are the norm (in films frequently positioned by reviewers as overlong and ‘meandering’ (Eric Henderson, 2015)), Meyers’s movies do not lend themselves readily to Hollywood’s growing focus on the international market, which favours readily translatable, language-light filmmaking. While in its mixed reception some might have considered The Intern to be merely ‘a fluffy workplace fantasy from queen of the genre Nancy Meyers’ (Robey, 2015), the truth is that whatever one’s estimation of it, this is a film that pushed back against the prevailing Hollywood marketplace in numerous and significant ways – and these features warrant more consideration and recognition than they are ever likely to get from the critical consensus as it stands, this being just ‘a Nancy Meyers movie’.

The Meyers touch? Taste, design and style in the cinema of Nancy Meyers If food metaphors abound in the critical reception of Nancy Meyers’s work, reviews of The Intern reveal another common linguistic proclivity among journalists, in which the mollifying experience of watching a Meyers movie is likened to the imagined sensation of

147

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

147

being enswathed within that most deliberated of her visual motifs – namely, her lavish, comforting, fulsome interior design. Hence for Variety the film was ‘smooth white-linen entertainment’ (Lodge, 2015); James Rocchi at The Wrap described it as ‘a cozy slanket of a movie, one that wraps you up in a suffocating hug’ (2015); for Tim Robey at The Telegraph, Hathaway here is an actor who leaves you ‘feeling everything objectionable has been ironed out, or shoved deftly under a well-placed throw cushion’ (2015). And for Manohla Dargis, ‘The director Nancy Meyers doesn’t just make movies, she makes the kind of lifestyle fantasies you sink into like eiderdown. Her movies are frothy, playful, homogeneous, routinely maddening and generally pretty irresistible even when they’re not all that good. Her most notable visual signature is the immaculate, luxuriously appointed interiors she’s known to fuss over personally – they inevitably feature throw pillows that look as if they’ve been arranged with a measuring tape’ (2015, my emphasis). So closely associated has she become with the manufacture of these affluent, lovingly photographed, sumptuous homes that on the release of The Intern in 2015, Jezebel ran a ‘Which Nancy Meyers Kitchen Are You?’ quiz (Finger, 2015), in which readers could ascertain whether they were, for example, ‘Diane Keaton’s Country Kitchen in Baby Boom (Prerenovation)’ or ‘Meryl’s Kitchen in It’s Complicated’. Elsewhere, Slate produced a video enabling readers to scroll through her various movie locations and discover their (eyebrow-raising) estimated real-estate prices, remarking that ‘from The Parent Trap to Something’s Gotta Give to The Holiday, the unexamined wealth in Nancy Meyers’s movies is legendary’ (Hubbard, 2015), as if her films’ failure to provide some kind of critical analysis of capital was a shortcoming in them. Meyers knows very well that, as Dargis puts it, ‘her most notable visual signature’ is taken to be her detailed, sumptuous sets and eye to a particular kind of plush but never vulgar styling, and has given some insights into how she works in this respect. She has detailed how important her archiving of found images was to preparing for Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated (Bayou, 2013), and how comprehensive Pinterest ‘mood-boards’ were essential to preproduction for The Intern (BAFTA, 2015), for example. Indeed, the film even gives a humorously self-conscious nod to her reputation in this respect when Davis moves in to share Ben’s home. Meyers cuts from an exterior shot of Ben’s Brooklyn brownstone to an

148

148

NANCY MEYERS

interior shot of Ben’s bed, as Davis observes appreciatively in voiceover ‘I like that you do the throw pillow thing’, before cutting again to a shot of the two of them standing together at the end of the bed, surveying its plumped-up arrangement thoughtfully. The ‘gag’ here is multiply inflected; for the cognizant audience who is aware of the ubiquity with which Meyers is described as a purveyor of ‘decorator porn’ (LaPorte, 2009), the scene invites us to smile with her at her self-conscious play on this; and there is the surprise fact that a man of Ben’s age and demeanour would arrange his bed in this kind of ornate fashion, despite living alone; then the incongruous sight of two ‘regular guys’ stopping to admire the styling of a bunch of throw pillows. Because, after all, there is something very ‘feminine’ about attention to such matters. Indeed Ben explains it to Davis by saying, ‘I was married for a very long time’. ‘Hmmmm’, Davis responds in agreement, the shared understanding being that Ben’s bedroom ‘throw pillow thing’ is a vestige of his deceased wife’s former presence. But one can note a ‘feminization’ at work here also in the specific way that Dargis describes it; Meyers is known to ‘fuss over’ the interior design and throw pillow arrangement of her sets ‘personally’ (2015), Dargis tells us, conjuring up an image of a clucking mother hen, rather than an exacting and attentive auteur who is meticulous in ordering her mise-en-scène (it is invariably women who are thought to ‘make a fuss’). Given the amount of attention given over to the polish of Meyers’s particular interior design style, one could be misled here into thinking that discussion of this arena forms a standard component of critical approaches to ‘chick flicks’ and romcom. In fact, attention to the visual landscapes of these genres has gone particularly under-theorized in scholarship, no doubt due to the perceived ‘obviousness’ of romcom, as discussed in Chapter 2. But in romantic comedy as in all genres, space and mise-en-scène must be examined and conceptualized as far more than merely functional elements that form a backdrop to the narrative. In a rare instance of critical work which looks closely at the design and aesthetics of romcom (in this instance regarding the uses of ‘masculine and feminine domestic space in postfeminist romantic comedy’), Lauren Jade Thompson makes a cogent rationale for reading its space as dramatic and meaningful, arguing, ‘Domestic space is used expressively within the romantic sex comedy not just to display the background, wealth, status and gender of the characters through the

149

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

149

mise-en-scène, but also actively, as part of the narrative. The space is not a static and unchanging backdrop, but transforms to reflect plot progression, character development and to give the audiences clues’ (Thompson, 2013: 160). Meyers is in complete accord with this position, having said more than once that someone getting a detail of the set out of sync with her characters, such as choosing a set of unsuitable bed linen (Bayou, 2013) or including a misplaced ‘art book on a table’ (Kaufman, 2009), is ‘like somebody has added dialogue into the scene’ (ibid.). But at the same time as she is acutely attuned to the detail of interior design, Meyers is also exasperated by how critics return so predictably and snidely to the matter of her lavishly stylized mise-en-scène, indicating that she is well aware of how this consistent thread in her work has proven detrimental to her critical reputation, and even censoring her willingness to discuss it as a result. Hence she has remarked in interview, ‘I used to not want to talk about this. [Because] I thought that it takes away from us as filmmakers to talk about this . . . there’s an awful lot of attention paid to these things and architecture porn and all that stuff’ (in Larocca, 2015; see also Bayou, 2013) – recognizing here that her attentiveness to this ‘stuff’ is used to undermine her work as a filmmaker, rather than being received as a skilfully distinctive element of it (see also BAFTA, 2015).

‘The kitchen is the movie’: meaning, space and emotion in Meyers’s movies To paraphrase Davis in The Intern, then, why don’t critics ‘like that [she does] the throw pillow thing’? In the repeated return to the matter of her penchant for ‘kitchen-design erotica’ (Rocchi, 2015), there is an acerbic resentment of what is perceived to be a certain ‘smugness’ about her lovingly cast visualizations of (white) privilege. Hence while, on the one hand, critics recurrently acknowledge the inherent tastefulness and desirability of Meyers’s interiors, they are also often written about contemptuously, as if they are merely soulless display-cases for exhibiting wealth; Rocchi, for example, describes her as producing ‘Crate & Barrel comedies – full of lame characters, lavish furnishings, tastefully drab colours, no sharp edges’, making her ‘our foremost chronicler of the privileged class

150

150

NANCY MEYERS

enjoying their privileges’ (2015). According to this perspective, Meyers’s films do not so much give pleasurable shape to an aspirational milieu, as self-indulgently wallow in an unimaginative but hugely conservative upper middle-class bubble. Rocchi’s reference to ‘no sharp edges’ here is well made, in that there is a ‘softness’ to much of Meyers’s design and cinematography, extending not only to the warmth with which her heroines are recurrently lovingly lit, but to the whole haptic sense of soft textures in many of her spaces and interiors. The language adopted in the reviews of The Intern cited above is telling in this respect, in which the film is compared to or described as ‘smooth white-linen’, ‘cozy’, ‘suffocating’, ‘ironed-out’, while for Dargis, Meyers’s films are ones you can ‘sink into’ (2015). An interesting detail emerges from Merkin’s New York Times profile of Meyers in this respect. She describes being in the edit suite with Meyers and editor Joe Hutshing working on It’s Complicated where she was ‘making like a one-woman clean-up squad’, instructing him to get rid of ‘infinitesimal, invisible-to-the-human-eye blurs on the screen’. Later she ‘went over shots of the backyard of Streep’s house’ editing out dead trees and spiky plants, telling Merkin, ‘Every plant that is spiky is removed from this movie . . . You have no idea. Keep it all soft’ (2009, my emphasis). Furthermore, and as Rocchi also touches on above, her ardent attention to the detail of these inviting yet still somehow distantly fantastical homes is invoked by irked critics as if it is a kind of smokescreen to divert attention from what is lacking. This position suggests her audiences are so wrapped up in her interiors that they are distracted from the fact that she can’t really ‘do’ more substantial work like original character or plot, as with the Empire review of It’s Complicated, which concluded, ‘Like all Meyers’ films, it’s more about interior design porn than real human emotions’ (O’Hara, 2009). Of course for Meyers, as with any director of note, emotion, space and mise-en-scène are inextricably intertwined. As she has put it in simple terms, ‘I see a house as a lead character in a movie’ (cited in Abramaovitch, 2012). In a poetical description of Something’s Gotta Give, for example, which remains arguably the foremost discussed and coveted of her movie homes and which famously warranted a spread in Architectural Digest (Collins, 2007) (as The Intern also later did (Stamp, 2015)), she has described Erica’s Hamptons house as being the ‘desert island’ that enables Erica’s and Harry’s affair to come about, explaining, ‘I wanted to create a place where love

15

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

151

could bloom’ (Dawes, 2009; see also Writers Guild Foundation, 2010). In order to create this ‘desert island’, Meyers and production designer Jon Hutman ‘scouted hundreds of Long Island homes’ (Collins, 2007), eventually using one in Southampton for exteriors and building a lavish set at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City for the interiors (Sony Pictures, 2003). The set lends an air of theatricality to the film, which feels somehow fitting in relation to Erica’s work as a playwright, and in which, as Meyers puts it on the DVD director’s commentary, ‘we basically had four rooms’ which ‘[we were in] three solid months’. Sony’s large sound-stage was used to accommodate the building of a continuous set, in which hallways and airy rooms run off one another as they would in a real house (rather than being individually raised) (Bayou, 2013). Hence, in a key scene, when Harry and Erica come together to share late night snacks in the kitchen, entering from their bedrooms ‘stage right’ and ‘stage left’ in a wide shot that encompasses the entire breadth of the room, one almost feels one is watching them meet ‘onstage’, like the characters in Erica’s play they will eventually become. Indicating the enormous attention to detail entailed by Meyers’s devotion to design, set decorator Beth Rubino would spray sun-tan lotion on set to help give it (quite literally) an air of proximity to

FIGURE 3.6 ‘That whole floor plan is based on that moment’:  Erica (Diane Keaton) and Harry (Jack Nicholson) rendezvous for late night snacks and cautious flirtation in Something’s Gotta Give.

152

152

NANCY MEYERS

the beach (Collins, 2007; Bayou, 2013); and believing that ‘what defines a person is what’s on their bookshelf’, Rubino has explained how she ‘sat down and did a breakdown of subjects that I thought would be applicable for Erica Barry . . . then I  rented 300 feet of books from the Strand Bookstore in New York City’ (Sony Pictures, 2003), these forming a feature of the interiors which worked to ‘[build] depth for the set, making a very rounded environment for the actors’ (Collins, 2007). Erica’s kitchen contained everything from ‘19th century originals from Provence’ to pieces bought on ‘eBay for $1.99’ (Sony Pictures, 2003); and every day bundles of fresh flowers and greens were delivered to the set since ‘on camera there’s a subtle difference between fresh and artificial flowers. I  tried to use fresh cut flowers exclusively’ (Rubino in Sony Pictures, 2003, 6–7). Discussing Something’s Gotta Give with her in interview, Bradley Bayou was insistent, ‘We have to talk about the kitchen in this movie, because it had such an impact on the design world.’ Meyers agrees, ‘It’s crazy. Why? . . . It’s a gorgeous kitchen, but it’s not the only gorgeous kitchen!’ ‘Why do you think?’ asks Bayou, and Meyers’s response is very telling: I think it’s the movie, honestly. I think people like this movie and they like the characters in this movie, and they fell in love in that kitchen . . . Keanu kisses her in the kitchen. A lot happens in this kitchen. Jack realises he’s falling in love with her in the kitchen. The kitchen is the movie. (Bayou, 2013, my emphasis) Rather than detailing what materials or inspirations or props she used, or where they were sourced from, Meyers answers Bayou’s question about the remarkable audience reaction to the Something’s Gotta Give kitchen exclusively in terms of character and narrative (‘They fell in love in that kitchen’). Indeed, Meyers has described how she had the entire set built in order to accommodate the fact that she wanted the would-be lovers to meet in the kitchen as described above, coming from bedrooms on opposite sides (‘that whole floor plan is based on that moment’ (BAFTA, 2015)), underlining how characters, relationship dynamics and narrative dictate the set, since the set ‘[is] storytelling’ (Bayou, 2013). As with all Meyers films, this point is not to downplay the exquisite sense of balance, light, colour and texture realized in Erica’s house, a home ‘with the feeling of ocean everywhere . . . “It’s about depth of field, constantly looking

153

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

153

from room to room, out a window, believing the beach is beyond,” Meyers explains’ (Collins, 2007). Here too, in again recognizing the importance of her collaborators, she has told also how she brought in her personal decorator, James Radin, to advise ‘because he’d done a lot of houses in the Hamptons and he really got us on track . . . he was really invaluable’ (Bayou, 2013). But her response to Bayou’s question about why audiences loved Something’s Gotta Give’s kitchen indicates how Meyers sees the audience’s investment in her films’ narratives and characters as intricately woven into the desire for and pleasure they take in their beautifully appointed spaces – a relationship infinitely more complex than the dismissive term ‘design porn’ could allow for even for a moment. But when the focus of a woman director’s consistent authorial vision in mainstream cinema entails the crafting of a particular, sumptuously appointed, aspirational (to some at least) aesthetic largely centred on the home, it is eagerly and easily devalued, particularly by those denigrating romcom, constructed as a chichi and superficial preoccupation. Indeed, while Merkin writes about Meyers’s style evocatively rather than dismissively in her profile of the director, it is interesting that she describes it at one point as a ‘love of seductive surfaces  – of rooms graciously adorned with

FIGURE 3.7 ‘The kitchen is the movie’: Erica plans pancakes for her and Harry at home on the much-coveted set of Something’s Gotta Give.

154

154

NANCY MEYERS

bowls of flowers, glowing lamplight, color-coordinated pillows on the couch, pieces of art, books and touches of pleasing texture in the way of curtains, cashmere throws and rugs’ (2009, my emphasis), as if these are beautiful but not ‘weighty’ distractions. And as Meyers has herself said, ‘I tend to write movies that take place in bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms, rather than on grand landscapes’ (Sony Pictures, 2003). In other words, crucially, the space where Meyers most recurrently and obviously expresses her aesthetic distinctiveness is precisely in the construction of the domestic, a feminine space (‘The kitchen is the movie’). And therefore it is one that is quite effortlessly belittled and diminished, sitting as it does quite outside the ‘masculine’ spaces, interests and themes so much more readily accommodated by the bulk of the history of auteur theory. Manohla Dargis seems to uncomfortably grapple with all this in her 2009 review of It’s Complicated. She asserts of Meyers that ‘there’s no doubt she is an auteur, in that the films she has directed . . . express a personal vision’. But this comes after she has taken pains to stress that ‘Ms. Meyers doesn’t have her own visual signature’ (2009, my emphasis) – a position she seems to have reconsidered by the time of The Intern, but also one which seems at odds with her describing Meyers as being ‘an auteur’ at all. Dargis, then, seemingly cannot allow that Meyers’s apparently consistently recognizable and distinctively evoked attention to painstakingly researched, sourced and photographed mise-en-scène might constitute the visual signature of the auteur. Rather, she observes quite damningly, ‘What she does have is a kind of upmarket taste and the means to translate it on screen’ (ibid.). Interestingly, ‘upmarket taste’ is dropped in here disparagingly to signal something simultaneously quite dis-tasteful (bland, anonymous, homogenous) rather than aspirational about Meyers’s films. The phrase indicates the intricate and conflictual operation of markers of taste, class and refinement, that are triggered by discussions of Meyers, in a throwaway comment that leaves her once again out in the cold and undermined for doing ‘the throw pillow thing’.

Spaces of wonder But aside from her regimentally organized throw pillows, I want to argue there exists an important yet abidingly overlooked

15

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

155

concomitant motif within the ‘Meyers touch’ that consistently features in her crafting of design. This must therefore also be considered before claiming that ‘immaculate, luxuriously appointed interiors’ are all that constitute Meyers’s ‘visual signature’ (Dargis, 2015) in films which Dargis described previously as having ‘barely any aesthetic value at all’ (Carmon, 2009a). Meyers’s repeated fashioning of a particular sequence of shots, where a character or characters step back to appreciate the marvel of her houses, appears with reliable constancy throughout her oeuvre. This could be said to bolster Meyers’s claim to auteur status, in fact, in evidencing her having impressed an(other) identifiable marker of her ‘vision’ across her work. Interestingly, Carrie Rickey has already made this claim for Meyers in respect of what she sees as another distinguishing visual element. She argues that ‘although her movies have classical framing, editing and storytelling, where most filmmakers would use a reverse angle to show how characters look at each other, Ms. Meyers has her own signature: the side-by-side shot of a man and a woman on a bed, seen from the ceiling’ (Rickey, 2015). But to this I would add that, significantly and more frequently, Meyers has recurrently built into her films a self-conscious awareness of the impact and spectacle of her mise-en-scène of aspiration. Throughout her movies, she incorporates sequences in which characters stop to regard, survey and appreciate the impressiveness – the wonder – of the spaces and scenery that surround them. She does so in a fashion that suggests she is not merely mindlessly rolling out one fancy kitchen after another with no thought to its part in the cinematic experience – but rather understands her interior design to be both an important part of audience pleasure in her films and, linked to this, a cornerstone of her particular brand of Hollywood spectacle. Indeed, structurally these moments form a parallel to those sequences in sci-fi and action cinema in which, as conceptualized by scholars in those fields, a scene of effects-led display plays out and characters on-screen actually pause themselves to watch it, underlining the marvel taking place, and expressing awe as a kind of guide and surrogate for the audience in their seat who are also watching the scene unfold in wonder. In The Parent Trap, this is particularly facilitated by the fact that Hallie and Annie are each seeing their parents’ two splendid homes in central London and the Napa Valley for the first time when they visit, and the audience therefore discovers these spaces through their marvelling eyes. In Something’s Gotta Give, when

156

156

NANCY MEYERS

Harry visits Erica’s Hamptons home, Marin gives him a guided tour of its splendid interiors (‘Behind me, the requisite Hamptons deck . . . complete with pool and ocean view . . . ’) in which the camera switches to Harry’s point of view (she is also flirtatiously stripping down to her underwear as she speaks) so that she seems to deliver the tour directly to the audience. Here, the spectacle offered, on the one hand, by this partially clothed woman, and, on the other, by this grand house, almost seem to coalesce. In The Holiday there is an extended sequence of wide-eyed tourist Iris visiting room after room in Amanda’s stunning LA mansion and getting increasingly excited by what she discovers after she arrives there for their houseswap, ending with her collapsing in exhausted exhilaration at the prospect of it all onto the huge bed. In The Intern, when Ben drops Jules home one evening, she gets out of the car sleepily and looks up at her elegant Brooklyn brownstone from the kerb. The two gaze at her building together, and she muses, ‘I love this house. It just looks happy to me.’ Meyers then cuts to an exterior view of it, panning upwards, and Jules explains, ‘Like, if it was in a kids’ book, it would make you feel good when you turned the page and saw it. You know what I mean?’ ‘I do,’ agrees Ben, underlining the importance of the fact that Meyers sees these spaces not just as cinematic real estate brochures (more than one reviewer felt inclined to mention that Jules’s house would cost upwards of $3m (cf. Silverstein, 2015)), but homes which are loved, laboured for and lived in. In What Women Want, Darcy’s passion for her new (though empty) home becomes part of the narrative, as she excitedly brings Nick to see her as-yet-unfurnished but still imposingly elegant new apartment and gives him a tour of it (in a manner not unlike Marin in Something’s Gotta Give). ‘So if you had a bed we’d be dancing on it,’ Nick tells her suggestively in classical Hays-Code style as she shows him around what will eventually be her ‘boudoir’. In It’s Complicated it is a key premise of the film that Jane’s house is about to be remodelled. Hence here, as in What Women Want, the audience is invited to join in the game of envisioning how (even more) impressive it will shortly become, as Jane’s architect and would-be suitor Adam invites her up a step-ladder into her imaginary new bedroom to survey what will eventually become her sea view when she wakes up (indeed it is interesting that both these sequences involve visualizing the prospective couple together in what will become a bedroom).

157

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

157

FIGURE 3.8 Shock and awe at the pool: Iris runs around Amanda’s mansion in wonder on arriving at her splendid LA house-swap in The Holiday.

But though, as argued above, the structure of these scenes of spectacular appreciation mirror a similar strategy adopted widely by action and sci-fi cinema, Meyers’s films are not subject to the same critical yardsticks as these are. In these other genres  – still very readily understood to be frequently gendered as male and led by men, despite the increasing appearance of some high-profile heroines – acceptance is often afforded by critics to the notions of fantasy and generic verisimilitude in a manner not extended to Meyers and her depiction of luxurious domestic interiors, which are constructed as part of the generic landscape of the ‘chick flick’. Indeed it is interesting that Meyers herself has pointed to this inequity by invoking how directors making ‘space movies’ are not held hostage to dismissive scrutiny of their mise-en-scène in the way that she is. Asked in interview how she feels reading negative reviews and whether she believes herself to be ‘critic-proof’, since ‘your films do a really strange thing that they get picky criticisms and then they go on to make an absolute fortune at the box office’, she replied: I do care, I wish I didn’t care. I wish I was bigger but, you know, I  care . . . I  don’t think talking about the décor of the film for example is important in any way, it should not factor in. I can’t imagine somebody does some space movie and they talk about

158

158

NANCY MEYERS

the choices that director made to show you what space looks like. Right? Why in my movie do we have to talk about what the décor looks like? Who the hell cares? (BAFTA, 2015) Meyers is somewhat disingenuous here – clearly ‘talking about the décor’ is an important element of film criticism, and clearly she does think it matters or she wouldn’t devote such energy to this feature of her work. But her point about the disparity between the ways genres are treated here is a sound one, and it is impossible to disentangle the gendered presumptions from the judgement at work in this. Equally, and again for reasons imbricated with suppositions about gender, style and value, most critics and scholars have to date seemingly found it impossible to place Meyers squarely into the auteur canon of film history, an omission this chapter has sought to unravel and redress. As Sims has observed, while Meyers may not have a signature camera angle to call her own, nevertheless, ‘her films bear her stamp – witty banter about sex and gender, verbal nods to feminist discourse, and successful postfeminist heroines – that are directorial trademarks comparable to Woody Allen’s monologues and neurotic New Yorkers’ (2014: 193). To this comparison one might also add the pair’s shared recurrent focus on a privileged, white milieu – yet none of this has held Allen back from celebrated auteur status and the ‘celebrity director’ (Sims, 2014) club as it has Meyers. Next, in the final chapter I consider another cornerstone of ‘the Nancy Meyers touch’ in greater detail, what Melissa Silverstein has called ‘her calling card’ (2015) – namely, her unusual, measured and thought-provoking interest in ‘women of a certain age’.

Notes 1 Evidently, one might say this is not an entirely fool-proof way of evaluating ‘success’ or ‘popularity’, nor is it clear what might be, given the many kinds of determining factors one could say might be brought to bear alongside ticket sales to fully contextualise them further (e.g. time and scale of release, the status of other releases out at the time and so on). Nevertheless, it remains an interesting means of underlining the extent to which Meyers has been left out of the conversation.

159

RETHINKING AUTHORSHIP

159

2 Note that while a romcom may be considered under the umbrella term ‘chick flick’, not all chick flicks are romcoms – Ferriss and Young define chick flicks ‘in the simplest, broadest sense’ as ‘commercial films that appeal to a female audience’ (2007: 2). 3 This is a scenario which is being increasingly revised, cf. Ferriss and Young (2007); Garrett (2007); Jeffers McDonald (2007); Abbott and Jermyn (2009); and Harrod (2015). It is worth noting here too though that even in the growing body of work on romantic comedy and chick flicks, which one might hope could build momentum for a critical climate in which recognition of Meyers is fostered, Meyers does not necessarily come to the fore; of the titles mentioned here, for example, Garrett (2007), Jeffers McDonald (2007) and Abbott and Jermyn (2009) all look at contemporary US romcom to some degree but neither Meyers nor any of her films are indexed in any of them. 4 Important interventions include Geeta Ramanathan’s Feminist Auteurs (2007), while the emergent book series at Edinburgh University Press, ‘Visionaries: Thinking Through Female Filmmakers’, edited by Lucy Bolton and Richard Rushton, promises to extend feminist enquiry into these debates further still. 5 Furthermore, Mayer notes that while the growing body of monographs on female filmmakers emerging in recent times is to be welcomed, it is itself still problematically selective in other ways in that these volumes ‘nevertheless primarily cover directors who are of white Western European or North American origin’ (2016: 16), a problem this current volume itself evidently contributes to.

160

16

4 Key Concepts ‘Your Age Is One of My Favourite Things About You’: Meyers’s Older Women and the Gendered Experience of Ageing

It has long been observed that Hollywood is no friend to older women. Somewhere in or around their thirties or even earlier, the nature of the roles that might be open to women stars begins to change (both in terms of narrative function and star billing), and indeed to wane. Hence the absence of ‘women of a certain age’ from cinema screens has long been one of the gravest criticisms levied against the industry. Its prejudices here exemplify how older women throughout culture are systematically expunged and rendered obsolete as they age, quite unlike their ageing male counterparts, whose utility long exceeds that of women both onscreen and off. Their devastating erasure from Hollywood not only demonstrates but bolsters a cultural landscape where older women just don’t really matter. As Rosanna Arquette’s documentary about the experiences of older and ageing Hollywood women actors, Searching for Debra Winger (2001), vehemently attests, the industry does not know what to do with its female stars once it presumes they are no longer of

162

162

NANCY MEYERS

interest to the teenage boys it has relentlessly courted throughout the post-classical era. Indeed, in this sense Hollywood is no friend to the older woman (potentially) in the audience either, if one assumes that older women cinema-goers might want something else readily available besides, or at least in addition to, a playbill dominated by superheroes and explosions. This simplified vision of Hollywood’s output might be thought to be something of an exaggeration and polemic. But, nevertheless, it is an undeniable fact that this kind of dominant fare is ‘no country for old women’, to adopt Rob Schaap’s turn of phrase (2011), since it basically gives them nothing to do. The terms ‘old’, ‘older’ and ‘older women’ are subjective and contentious wherever they are used, of course. But women’s ageing is particularly acutely policed in Hollywood, and the industry notoriously unforgiving of it. In 2015, for example, there was disbelief in the press and on social media when Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed that at the age of just 37 she’d been told she was ‘too old’ to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man (see Child, 2015). And as figures such as Martha Plimpton and Daryl Hannah recount in Arquette’s documentary, once Hollywood’s nebulous gendered markers of age/ ageing come to pass, the best that most women actors can hope for is a bit-part as ‘quirky friend of’ or ‘mother’. In such a climate, Meyers’s attention to the figure of the older woman has marked her out as exceptional in Hollywood. More than this, it has denoted her as something of a pioneer, at the frontline of producing more substantial representations of 50+ women in a historical moment which is seemingly becoming increasingly alert to the appalling consequences of the twin-pronged ageist and sexist discrimination they widely endure. For this reason, this extended chapter considers the importance of and debates surrounding this theme at length. Meyers’s 2003 film, Something’s Gotta Give, stands out as instrumental in instigating a tentative movement in Hollywood in which the industry began to wake up to the fact that there was indeed an audience to be found for, and the possibility of a decent profit to be made from, films starring older women  – and more specifically for the purposes of this chapter, from romantic comedies with older heroines. What is more, the fact that Something’s Gotta Give was released contemporaneously alongside Calendar Girls (2003), starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters as the real-life fund-raising British Women’s Institute members who stripped off for a charity calendar, prompted a period of amplified media discussion about the

163

KEY CONCEPTS

163

wider absence of older women in ‘sexy’ roles, in which Something’s Gotta Give emerged as a central and enduring example of a film helping turn that tide. This is not to say of course that there were no successful films with ageing/older women stars as protagonists before this time, nor that ‘sexiness’ should be the primary or even a preeminent marker of more interesting and diverse roles being opened up for older women. Rather, the success of Something’s Gotta Give early in the millennium can be seen as key to the upswing in a body of films emerging since this period featuring older women taking on the role of romantic heroine. Indeed, Andrew Sarris’s review noted of the film’s mature lovers theme that ‘you have to go back to Marie Dressler (62) and Wallace Beery (only 46) in Min and Bill (1930) to find two Oscar-winners of such advanced age engaged in any kind of onscreen relationship’ (2003). In the wake of Something’s Gotta Give, the body of ‘mature’ romcoms has included, with some varying box office results,1 such films as Must Love Dogs (2005), I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), musical-hybrid Mamma Mia! (2008), The Big Wedding (2013), Enough Said (2013), as well as generically slippery romantic ‘dramedies’ like Hope Springs (2012) and And So It Goes (2015), and Meyers’s own It’s Complicated (2009). As a result of Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated, Meyers has earned a reputation as a director who is particularly sensitive to the desires of older women. This is in terms of both representation – through the textured older women characters she constructs and brings to the forefront of these films – and audience – in providing the neglected older female audience with stories, perspectives and subjectivities that just might chime, however obliquely, with some of their (rarely explored) experiences. Anxieties about a less-than-perfect ageing body; the importance of female friendships and their histories; a desire to remain active and ‘relevant’ as society applies its interests so relentlessly only to young women; the readjustment prompted by the prospect of living alone – all of these issues form threads in Meyers’s older protagonists’ narratives, even while they occupy generally sunny and privileged worlds in which other ‘real’ issues like health care provision or money-worries are entirely alien. So it was too, then, that when It’s Complicated was released, Time Out reviewer Anna Smith noted in her review that this was ‘the second geronto-com from Nancy Meyers’ (Smith, 2010), thereby both naming a new generic sub-category and putting Meyers’s name at its forefront. In short, these are humorously

164

164

NANCY MEYERS

inflected films that centre on (overwhelmingly white, heterosexual) older/ageing protagonists embarking on love affairs, despite their advancing years, in a culture which typically colonizes romance as the province of the young. Notwithstanding the growing visibility of such stories, it nevertheless says something about the still enduring novelty of their premise that having directed just two such films Meyers has been situated as something of an auteur for the gerontocom. But other of her films’ romantic protagonists have importantly also been figured as having ‘been around the block’, and are not played by the fresh-faced stars that intermittently emerge to head up the romcom scene. In The Parent Trap, for example, Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson as Nick and Elizabeth are both mature leads whose characters come with plenty of ‘baggage’, having been in a failed relationship together years earlier; and in What Women Want, while Nick has reached a point of détente with his ex-wife, a key part of Darcy’s back story is the fact of her having recently had a painful divorce, with both protagonists again here being older than many of the couples that have peopled the genre. While this chapter focuses particularly on Meyers’s romantic heroines, it is important to note that she believes she attends as closely to her male characters as she does to the women she writes. She has said of Something’s Gotta Give, for example, that it is ‘very much from Diane’s character’s point of view as well as from Jack’s’ (Topel, 2006: 265), describing it again in 2015 as ‘a two-hander’ and not ‘Diane Keaton’s movie . . . I love writing men’ (BAFTA, 2015). Hence, in their way, these films also explore aspects of ageing masculinities with a reflective eye, not merely ageing women (see Pamela A. Gravagne, on Something’s Gotta Give again in this respect, where she charts Harry’s strategies to ‘maintain his masculine sense of self’ through the ageing process (2013: 101)). And Meyers doubtless has the business smarts to know that in terms of keeping studio bosses happy, the wider the appeal of her films, the better; not only will a film that speaks to both men and women promise to perform better at the box office, but, as David Cox has put it, ‘the most cost-effective films are those that appeal to all age-groups at once. Hence, the industry’s holy grail has become the “inter-generational movie” ’ (2012). Indeed, this is a particularly apt description of The Intern, a film which is explicitly about inter-generationality, placing an intergenerational friendship at its core in partnering 70-year-old Robert De Niro with 32-year-old Anne Hathaway.

165

KEY CONCEPTS

165

In the absence of substantive audience research, though, it remains to be seen how diverse Meyers’s audiences genuinely are. She herself has petitioned interviewers, ‘Don’t think only women go to my movies’ (Shapiro, 2015; see also Larocca, 2015). Certainly, the crossgender appeal of her male stars, including Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give and Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in It’s Complicated, should not be underestimated, with Nicholson and Baldwin in particular winning laudits for their turns as still charming ageing rogues. While some scholarly commentators situate the appeal of Meyers’s mature romances as squarely targeting ‘the specific niche audience of middle-aged women’ (Kaklamanidou, 2013: 89), others contend Meyers’s appeal very much extends significantly beyond the older female audience as we have seen (see Marshall, 2009; Wiggers, 2010). However, weighty evidence of this audience breadth is not easy to come by. Anecdotal observations about audience composition can unquestionably prompt productive reflection and provide rich and thought-provoking material; one of the most memorable and striking micro-level indices of Something’s Gotta Give’s crossgenerational appeal was highlighted by Meyers herself on Instagram, for example. In April 2015 she ‘regrammed’ a bachelorette party photo she’d been sent of a group of young women who’d hired a house in the Hamptons and dressed up in white turtlenecks and Erica Barry-styled oversized specs to mark the occasion with a dinner party there, underlining again that despite the disdain regularly meted out to her by critics, Meyers has her fans too.2 The scene shared is one of a group of 20-something women demonstrating the kinds of ‘knowing’ collective pleasure and fan behaviour readily allied with cult film audiences, and thus rarely affiliated with ‘chick flicks’ which circulate quite outside the ‘cool’ or ‘insider’ domain of cult. Still, however evocative they may be, such instances of audience ‘evidence’ tell us most when framed with awareness regarding their representativeness, contexts or other limitations. Kelli Marshall’s important work on Something’s Gotta Give’s relationship to classical screwball, for example, draws on her personal circle to argue the case for Something’s Gotta Give’s cross-gendered audience appeal, stating that ‘virtually all of the men with whom I have spoken about the film (ranging from ages thirty to sixty) claimed that it was quite entertaining’ (2009: 15), leaving one wanting to know more about other elements of their demographic breadth, or the context(s) in which these conversations occurred. Interestingly she also notes,

16

166

NANCY MEYERS

that ‘of the numerous favourable film reviews that I  read, 80 per cent are from male critics’ (ibid.), but as vexed feminist scholars and activists have pointed out with frustration and as noted in the previous chapter,3 most film critics per se are male. Hence when a generally well-received film is reviewed (and notwithstanding findings from The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film that show the number of reviews by women are higher for romcom than in other genres (2016: 2)), it is likely that by default most of those reviews will be by men. (According to film review aggregator rottentomatoes.com Something’s Gotta Give is only narrowly beaten by The Parent Trap as the best critically received of Meyers’s films overall, with a 6.6 per cent average critics’ score). Repeatedly in the very many more negative critical reviews Meyers’s body of work has received over the years, a notable theme in reviewers’ dismissiveness has been a regular disdain for what they take to be the predominantly female, and often older female, audience the film was actually intended for. ‘I’m under thirty, I’m not married and I’m not a woman’, opens Julian Sancton’s Q&A with Meyers rather defensively in Vanity Fair, for example – hence, he confesses, that the task of interviewing the director about It’s Complicated made him feel like ‘an interloper’ (2009). For David Edelstein writing in New  York magazine, It’s Complicated is ‘an older woman’s emasculating revenge fantasy’ (2009); for Scott Foundas, Something’s Gotta Give ‘panders to the very audience (namely, middle aged women) that it ostensibly empowers’ (2003); there she is to be found again implicitly too in Michael Atkinson’s review of Something’s Gotta Give, adopting the same vernacular as Foundas to describe the film’s ‘pandering tripe’ (my emphasis) as a ‘menopausal screwball’ (2003); and she’s more than in evidence too in Roger Ebert’s sketch of It’s Complicated’s ‘target demographic’, as including ‘gal pals taking a movie break after returning Christmas presents’ (2009). In these and other reviews the dismissive vision evoked of an older female audience provides a ready opportunity to wheel out tired clichés about ageing women, as variously disaffected shrews or easily fobbed off simpletons to be ‘pandered to’, indiscriminating in their tastes, and less culturally cognizant than their male counterparts (and the male critics so often writing about them of course). Note, then, how even Ebert’s seemingly more benign description nevertheless works to summon an image of gaggles of mindless female consumers, as he conflates

167

KEY CONCEPTS

167

their purchase of a ticket for It’s Complicated with the exchange of pointless Christmas gifts; that is, both activities amount to a diverting enough but ultimately rather purposeless use of time and money. It is also true that in these ageing protagonist films, as with her other movies, Meyers’s maxim remains that she ‘writes what she knows’. As she remarked in 2015, her characters have aged and their concerns changed as she herself has aged; ‘I’m 65. So I started writing movies about 30-year-olds when I started. And as I’ve gotten older, the characters have gotten older . . . You know it’s me writing the things I think about and worry about’ (Shapiro, 2015). Hence she has widely acknowledged that her ‘gerontocoms’ and other films draw freely on her own experiences. In The Intern, then, her voice is felt in part as a cultural observer contemplating how men have changed over the course of her lifetime, while in Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated she imparts something of what it is to be an older woman making sense of being single and 50-something, tentatively resetting her coordinates after divorce, in a culture that reveres youth. In fact, in a Writers Guild Foundation masterclass, she has discussed how the seed that became Something’s Gotta Give was actually originally sown some years before she re-entered the dating scene. She tells how ‘the genesis’ of the film had come much earlier, when she and her husband had a male friend they would see regularly over the years for dinner, and as the three of them aged, the women he brought along with him did not: The three of us got older, the girls always stayed the same . . . I  personalised it . . . ‘So, what’s bad about me?’ . . . Why would he not like me, or someone like me? . . . What’s the deal, the girl has to be 29  years old all the time? . . . I  was thinking about that . . . what would it take for that guy to like me? To discover me as a woman? So I thought: desert island. We would have to be stranded on a desert island . . . So I created a desert island, a situation where this man was stranded in this woman’s home. (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010) As a result, and notwithstanding the debates above about the appeal her films may hold for a diverse audience, there is arguably a particular richness and detail to the emotional landscapes of the women in her ‘gerontocoms’ that more readily aligns the audience to their positionality (‘I am a lot of the things she is’, she has said of Erica Barry

168

168

NANCY MEYERS

(Topel, 2006:  267)). Critics would also say that this personalized, delimited vision is precisely what leads to the exclusionary nature of her films – that they capture only a very privileged, white, heteronormative upper middle-class grasp both of everyday life and the particular ‘challenges’ older women must navigate, and thus cannot be held at any level to speak to a (arguably impossible) universal notion of women’s experience of ageing. If older women are a marginal group on Hollywood screens to begin with, within this, culturally and racially diverse and LGBTQ identities are all but non-existent. The absence of diversity or inclusivity in Meyers’s films remains a troubling and consistent issue, as has been noted throughout this book. Yet at the same time, what is also striking here is that despite its reputation for entrenched conservatism, the romantic comedy has evolved of late into one of the few spaces in popular culture where at least some older women audiences just might encounter a more multidimensional, appealing representation of someone they are able to consider as even remotely resembling themselves than has hitherto been popularly available  – and Meyers has been at the vanguard of this. While one must be wary indeed of overstating the case for a dramatic shift in Hollywood’s ageist and sexist frameworks, the success of a handful of particularly significant films and their older women stars in recent years has prompted numerous commentators to ask whether the industry might at last be revisiting some of its prejudices on this front, albeit hesitantly. In a January 2010 Vanity Fair profile of Meryl Streep promoting the release of It’s Complicated, for example, Leslie Bennetts proclaimed with some wonder that against all expectations in an industry seemingly preoccupied by youth, at the age of 60 the star had become Hollywood’s ‘new box-office queen’ (Bennetts, 2010). With a record breaking twenty (to date) Academy Award nominations (including three wins) under her belt and a film career dating back to 1977, Streep’s CV might be considered exceptional by anyone’s standards in terms of longevity and critical success. Yet as Bennetts noted, ‘even her most ardent fans, until recently, wouldn’t have linked her name with blockbuster receipts’ (ibid.). Following the phenomenal success of Mamma Mia! (2008) and Julie and Julia (2009), however, Streep had become box office gold, a reinvention, given her age, that was nothing short of ‘a Hollywood revolution’ in Bennetts’ view – and a transformation underlined further still weeks later by the subsequent box office success of It’s Complicated.

169

KEY CONCEPTS

169

Since Bennetts was writing in 2009, both critical and scholarly attention to the perceived ‘greying’ of mainstream cinema and its different manifestations has gathered momentum (see, for example, Chivers, 2011; Jermyn, 2012; Gravagne, 2013; Jermyn, 2014; Williams, 2015). At the same time, and to sound a note of caution again, it is apparent that the evidence for and reports of this apparent shift towards more ‘grey-content’ are not always consistent, indicating the contentious nature of contemporary Hollywood’s awkward relationship with mature audiences and, particularly, with older women stars. While Streep has gone on to further Oscar nominations for other projects following her later-life turn to romcom, Keaton has not, and indeed in 2005 Keaton expressed disappointment that Something’s Gotta Give had not opened up a wave of richer opportunities for her, remarking, ‘I got a lot of attention and money – and then I went right back to where I was before, a TV movie once a year’ (Merkin, 2005). Underlining the general dearth of roles for older women, in May 2013 Slate ran a piece by Sagit Maier-Schwartz called ‘Hollywood Abhors an Aging Woman. Too Bad For Hollywood’, particularly lamenting the fact that numerous television series were casting impossibly young women actors as mothers to co-stars unfeasibly close to their own age. The evident discomfort, even disgust, suggested by this reluctance to cast a breadth of older women Maier-Schwartz contended, was ‘just another example of Hollywood’s insane ageism’ (2013), demonstrating how much there is still to be done to redress the imbalance of older women’s enduring scarcity on-screen. Yet, that same month the Hollywood Reporter ran a cover article entitled ‘Revenge of the Over-40 Actress’, charting the remarkable number of current 40+ actresses such as Sandra Bullock and Julianne Moore ‘whose careers aren’t just thriving but dominating big castings in Hollywood’ (Siegolo, 2013), suggesting a notable cultural and industrial change was underway. Significantly, within this, Streep was identified as one of a handful of women stars, alongside fellow Oscar winners Helen Mirren and Diane Keaton, whose status as older women actors and whose professional longevity prefigured this recalibration by Hollywood. This seeming growing willingness in the industry to cast a somewhat greater breadth of differently aged women can be understood as a response to demographic shifts among its audience – an effort to expand representation on-screen in order to speak to the

170

170

NANCY MEYERS

growing prevalence of older cinema goers who presumably want to see stars and stories drawing on a wider spectrum of age ranges. The fact is that numerous nations are now living in an unparalleled era of a rapidly ageing population. One recent UK research project announced in 2014 that one in three children born today will live to be 100 years old (ESRC, 2014). Quite simply, there are now, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future, more older people around who might go to the cinema than was once the case. Of course, for many years following the organizational changes to the studios in the 1950s, older audiences have been of negligible interest to Hollywood – seen as the ‘once a year’ crowd who might make it out to a solitary movie in the holidays. But demographic shifts are necessitating a rethink of this. This is not least because of the renewed prospect of enticing back the ‘babyboomer’ generation, those audiences born in the postwar era who might have been regular cinema goers in their younger days but who have strayed from big-screen outings since the 1970s, and who are now likely to have more hours to occupy again in later life, especially as they live longer than their parents did. As Barnes and Cieply noted in the New York Times in a 2011 article on ‘the greying’ of the cinema audience, ‘The first of the 78 million baby boomers are hitting retirement age with some leisure hours to fill and a long-dormant love affair with movies’ (2011). Furthermore, some suggest technological shifts are facilitating the industry’s repositioning of cinema audiences (as opposed to film audiences); younger people, who are accessing films more widely via streaming, video-on-demand or illegal downloads, are seemingly becoming less likely to purchase cinema tickets (Barnes and Cieply, 2011; Cox, 2012; Jones, 2012). Hence, in Britain, the proportion of over-45s among regular filmgoers rose from 14 per cent in 1997 to 30 per cent in 2008, evidence of a shift that David Cox, adopting the same vernacular as Bennetts above, also takes to mean ‘a quiet revolution is underway’ (Cox, 2012). The New  York Times noted in 2011 that while the 50+ US cinema audience was still comparatively modest, it had nevertheless increased by 67 per cent since 1995 (Barnes and Cieply, 2011), while a survey in France by the National Centre for Cinema and Animation found that in the same year there ‘for the first time, seniors made up the biggest section of the audience’ (Mandelbaum, 2013). While one must be cautious not to essentialize audience tastes here, or to overplay the market share of these films relative to

17

KEY CONCEPTS

171

the many blockbuster franchises that surround them, it might nevertheless be argued that the popularity of the Streep films noted above suggests it is often older women who are proving particularly key to some of these unexpected success stories. Kira Cochrane notes, for example, that the astounding and unanticipated box office success achieved by Mamma Mia! (£369m worldwide) ‘must come as a surprise to the critics  – many of them male  – who described it as “dull”, “grotesque” and having “all the fizz of flat champagne” when it came out . . . What they didn’t understand, it seems, was how appealing the film would be to that much-neglected female audience who, in the words of the film’s producer, Judy Craymer, are “north-of-middle-age”. With its warmth, sauce and humour . . . [it] has brought women flooding through cinema doors’ (Cochrane, 2008). The appeal of this ‘warmth, sauce and humour’ combo hit on by Cochrane as key to Mamma Mia!’s success works adroitly too as a description of the appeal of Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated. Doubtless, all these films will have been watched too by other audiences outside of older women. Nevertheless, positioned together, they might suggest that a key trend within the wider greying of the cinema audience has been women ‘seniors’ returning to the cinema not only for films which are female-protagonist-led (see Rochlin, 2003), but often for films within what is typically perceived as ‘the woman’s film’ stable – that is, broadly speaking, romances. Looked at like this, Hollywood’s slow responsiveness to the potential of ‘the gerontocom’ seems to have been remiss indeed. But there is no denying, though it might seem somewhat paradoxical given everything just outlined here, that Something’s Gotta Give was a sizeable, if calculated, risk. As Nancy Griffin put it bluntly in the New York Times on its release, ‘Even if those over-the-hill lovers have the star power of Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, “Something’s Gotta Give,” Ms. Meyers’s $75  million romantic comedy about the Viagra set, which opened on Friday, is a commercial risk:  middle-aged romance generally translates into boxoffice detumescence’ (2003; see also Lippman, 2003). Interestingly, Meyers has indicated she did not find it particularly difficult to sell her concept (despite Keaton having told her she thought the film would struggle to be greenlit with her in the lead (Griffin, 2003)), saying, ‘I didn’t see it as a niche premise at all . . . I thought it’s a movie nobody’s made before. I saw it as something fresh’ (Linden,

172

172

NANCY MEYERS

2004a). Hence she recalls, just ‘one place turned me down because they thought that audiences wouldn’t come to see a movie about middle-aged people’ (Linden, 2004; see also Lippman, 2003), while other reports seemingly corroborate that ‘when Meyers pitched it over lunch to Sony chief Amy Pascal, the studio head said yes immediately’ (Rochlin, 2003). Indeed, Amy Pascal has described how she was sold on the film (as Chair of Columbia Pictures at this time) on reading the sex scene, where Erica tells Harry they don’t need to think about birth control because of the menopause: ‘And I said, I’m doing that movie, because I thought I’ve never seen a sex scene with menopause in it. And I thought, I’m making that’ (Masters, 2003). But the general receptiveness Meyers recalls the studios having had to the prospect of investing in a film with a 57-year-old romantic heroine and a likely high audience appeal to the ‘upper female quadrant’ (i.e. the older woman demograph) is somewhat surprising to learn. The fact that the pitch was successfully made to Amy Pascal seems important in this respect; she is described by Kim Masters as being ‘known for partiality to so-called chick-flicks’, but even Pascal has blankly declared in interview that ‘women don’t open pictures, older, younger, inbetween. No, they don’t’ (Masters, 2003). Underlining this, a 2003 Salon story reported with excitement that on its opening weekend Something’s Gotta Give had unexpectedly outperformed the Tom Cruise historical epic The Last Samurai (2003), released a week earlier (Traister, 2003). Producer Linda Obst notes in this article that the industry considers adult women to be ‘the hardest audience to convert from interest to ticket buyer, so therefore the hardest to make movies for’ (see also Lippman, 2003)  – Something’s Gotta Give’s release and subsequent success was therefore, in Salon’s estimation, ‘something remarkable’ (Traister, 2003). Similar themes are present in the conclusions reached by Rob Schaap’s study of the gendering of cinema in conglomerate Hollywood. According to his summary, research has indicated that ‘females go to see films that address them as male and older audiences go to see films that address them as youngsters, but in neither case does the reverse significantly apply. Clearly, the quadrant most disadvantaged by the cruel logic of demography is the mature female, those over 25 . . . the demographic remains under-represented across all major studio production schedules’ (2011: 157). In such a context, that Something’s Gotta Give got made, and got made on a budget

173

KEY CONCEPTS

173

estimated elsewhere to be $80m (imdb), was indeed something of a wonder.

A woman to love: Diane Keaton, Erica Barry and Something’s Gotta Give In the remainder of this chapter, then, I want to examine the import of Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated both to representations of older women on screen and to revisioning approaches to romantic comedy as by nature only reactionary. Indeed it is Diane Keaton, alongside Streep, who has arguably become the ‘poster woman’ for the recent body of US films featuring older romcom heroines, as she followed Something’s Gotta give with romantic protagonist roles in numerous films including Because I  Said So (2007), Mama’s Boy (2007) and The Big Wedding (2013). On its release in 2003 Something’s Gotta Give was widely touted as her ‘comeback’ after a run of TV movie roles, and it earned Keaton her fourth Academy Award nomination at the age of 57. It would be impossible in this chapter to do justice to the full breadth and longevity of Keaton’s career, which has encompassed not only scores of film roles but work as a photographer and director and the publication of two memoirs, for example. Nevertheless, what might her later career and the late evolution of her romcom persona following Something’s Gotta Give have to tell us about older women in the contemporary Hollywood film industry, about the romcom genre and about the significance of Nancy Meyers’s work within all this? In some respects it would be more accurate to refer to the late evolution of Keaton’s romcom heroine persona as a ‘revival’, since the role Keaton is still arguably most enduringly associated with remains her eponymous Oscar-winning turn in Woody Allen’s ‘nervous romance’ Annie Hall (1977), a film which he based on the relationship the two had shared in real life. So apparently blurred were the biographies of Keaton/Hall, and such was Annie’s/ Keaton’s sartorial impact following the film (it famously spawned a fashion trend for androgynous dressing that Keaton carried on off-screen and which she remains closely identified with today), that some critics speculated about how much she was ‘really’ acting in it, asking ‘whether she could play anything other than the bumbling,

174

174

NANCY MEYERS

awkward, romantic comedy role that Woody had shaped for her’ (Smith, 2005). Indeed, numerous commentators received the character of Erica as being a kind of return to Annie, now all grown up and a successful writer in her own right just as Alvy (Allen) had been back in Annie Hall; as Bruce Weber put it, ‘ Annie Hall now seems like a lonely bookend that has finally found its mate’ (2004; see also Foundas, 2003). Playing further with this sense of nostalgia, there is a poignant scene in Something’s Gotta Give when Harry, left alone at Erica’s house while she goes on a date with his doctor, Julian (Keanu Reeves), snoops through a shelf of her old photo albums, organized by decade. He pulls out the one marked ‘1970s’ and is clearly delighted by these images of Erica/Keaton in her youth, captured in that moment of a woman’s life which he describes in his opening monologue as ‘magic time’, playful and arresting pictures that one could easily imagine as out-takes from Annie Hall. It is a moment that fleetingly evokes something of what Lynne Segal has described as the ‘temporal vertigo’ brought on by ageing. ‘As we age,’ Segal writes, ‘changing year on year, we also retain, in one manifestation or another, traces of all the selves we have been, creating a type of temporal vertigo and rendering us psychically, in one sense, all ages and no age’ (2013: 4).4 Underlining the sense of intimacy that looking at her old photos engenders, Harry then falls asleep next to them on Erica’s bed. Such moments play with the notion of Keaton as a star with a particularly heightened sense of ‘history’, one who feels familiar to us in these old photos. It is this quality, this nostalgia for the young Keaton (which is to say the ‘old’ Keaton), who because of Annie Hall is inextricably tied to the history of romantic comedy, that makes her a particularly apt woman star for the mature romcom. The romantic comedy is a genre in which a sense of nostalgia is deeply embedded, both as a structuring sentiment in how its stories are told and often as an explicit theme; for example, in films where the protagonists return to a ‘first love’.5 Something’s Gotta Give’s return here to pictures of the young Keaton plays with such desire and perhaps, for viewers of a certain age, prompts audience nostalgia for their own past too, the time at which they remember or watched Keaton as a young(er) star. With her trademark animated gesticulation and capacity for mounting shrillness, it often seems that Keaton’s ‘uptight’ characters in films following Annie Hall such as The First Wives Club

175

KEY CONCEPTS

175

or Because I Said So are teetering close to histrionic outburst. The characteristically ‘talkative’ nature of her roles is also understood to be true of the real Keaton, a feature of what People magazine has described as her ‘oddball charm’ and ‘famously twittery persona’ (Gliatto, 2004). Furthermore, and as already alluded to in relation to her role in Baby Boom, this is a star image which places her in the tradition of the 1930s screwball heroine, including actors such as Katherine Hepburn, Carole Lombard and Rosalind Russell, who were similarly figured as quirky, smart and ‘sassy’ women, skilled in energetically loquacious delivery. Despite the seeming abundance of verbose comic parts on her résumé, an appraisal of Keaton’s complete oeuvre reveals an expansive career, which has taken in quite some breadth of roles, from epic crime story (The Godfather 1972) to romantic drama (Mrs Soffel 1984) to mainstream comedy (well-illustrated by her Father of the Bride roles).6 Furthermore, it also reveals just how pertinent some of the observations made by the older women actors featured in Arquette’s Searching for Debra Winger are to understanding the trajectory of Keaton’s career; the diminishing number and scope of the films she made once she reached ‘a certain age’ in the 1990s (‘I was moving toward maybe acting once a year in a cable movie’, as she said in the People profile following her Oscar nomination for Something’s Gotta Give (Gliatto, 2004)); and the delimited type of roles made available to her thereafter (‘middle-aged wives and mothers’, as she summarized them (ibid.)). Going against this tide, the film that reversed this course was Something’s Gotta Give, in which, as the high-achieving, talented, independent, but abstractly wanting Erica Barry, Keaton would finally get another role worthy of her talents and become ‘the comeback kid’ (Stahl, 2004). It is tremendously interesting, then, that it was a romantic comedy which engendered Keaton’s ‘consciousness-raising return to the spotlight’ (Gliatto, 2004). At one level, this is suggestive of how comedy might proffer a more tolerable space for ageing women actors to keep working but is not necessarily a progressive forum for them; comic roles could be said to bolster the presumptions that older women’s lives do not generally merit ‘serious’, dramatic contemplation and that audiences are more likely to be receptive to older women stars when they mine their age for laughs. But it would be reductive indeed to maintain that comedy, romantic or otherwise, is anathema to thoughtful social commentary. There is

176

176

NANCY MEYERS

indeed a ‘consciousness-raising’ agenda at work here, as well as numerous moments of contemplative poignancy that offset the film’s comedic instances of slapstick and wordplay; as Meyers has herself commented, ‘I often think that some of my movies if I just described them to you would be tragedies’ (BAFTA, 2015). All in all, Keaton’s comeback in a romcom potently underlines the contention I  have previously expounded that this genre has, against cultural expectations, facilitated some of the most nuanced, thoughtful and engaging representations of older women to make it to mainstream screens since the golden age of melodrama (Jermyn 2011: 33). When Something’s Gotta Give grossed more than $266  million dollars internationally (boxofficemojo.com), it comfortably evidenced that, contrary to popular belief, an older woman star could still carry a hit film in the modern film marketplace (albeit as part of a star package with Jack Nicholson – Meyers has commented that, given its theme, in order to be greenlit the film had to be ‘deeply entertaining and [have] a big guy’s part’ (Writers Guild Foundation, 2010)). It was certainly not without its snarky and sometimes overtly misogynistic critics – Foundas hatefully describes Erica as ‘a sex-starved nag who plays hard to get’ in a ‘paper-thin plot’, for example (2003). But, generally, beyond being commercially successful Something’s Gotta Give was also well received at a critical level, as reviewers responded well to its threading of pathos through a comic medley of screwball, farce and slapstick, not only earning Keaton a Best Actress Oscar nomination but winning her a Golden Globe. It is important to note here that awards of this calibre remain comparatively rare for the genre, underlining how the romcom is typically presumed to be too intrinsically lightweight to give rise to a performance of any substance (see Jermyn, 2011). There is something particularly apposite, then, in this recognition from the Academy Awards being bestowed again for a romcom performance on Keaton in particular – as if the genre and Keaton herself have matured together for/in this film, with Keaton demonstrating to the genre’s detractors once more how the romcom can offer thought-provoking, intelligent roles for women, some two and a half decades after she won an Oscar for Annie Hall. As indicated, a significant part of the pleasure here for the knowledgeable and perhaps older film-going audience comes inescapably from Keaton’s familiar performance style and in already understanding something of her history and persona. As Andrew

17

KEY CONCEPTS

177

Sarris observes in his review, the film is a ‘star vehicle’ (2004), and not merely for Nicholson who relishes his role as an inexorable seducer of young women. Rather, following in the tradition of ‘Old Hollywood’ (Sarris, 2004), where female stars were every bit as important to the industry as their male counterparts, the film is a celebration of Keaton in a role that enables her to play out a wide emotional range and narrative arc, gives her a steady stream of smart, funny, thoughtful dialogue, invites the audience into her subjectivity and photographs her with a loving eye while never wishing to erase or deny her age. It may be ‘a two-hander’, as Meyers puts it (BAFTA, 2015), but as A. O. Scott observed in his review, ‘Mr Nicholson has the gentlemanly grace to step aside and let Ms. Keaton claim the movie’ (2003). In a familiar trajectory, the film follows the apparently unlikely but ultimately fated formation of a couple, who come together despite the evident odds against them. Here, as noted, the premise initially standing in the way of the would-be couple is that 63-yearold womanizer Harry is currently dating Marin (Amanda Peet), the daughter of successful, divorced, feminist-minded playwright Erica, since he has an aversion to relationships with women of his own age. Reviews of the film consistently noted how Keaton and Nicholson were apparently playing versions of themselves and how Nicholson in particular, whose star persona has long played up a Lothario reputation accessorized with bad-boy sunglasses and smirking (Foundas, 2003), appeared to be relishing ‘playing “Jack” ’ (Foundas, 2003; see also Ebert, 2003) ‘in the most self-parodying role of a career characterized by self-parody’ (Orr, 2004). Indeed, Nicholson has told how he was in touch regularly with Meyers as she wrote the film, ‘sharing a knowledge gleaned over a long career of dating younger women. “I am not necessarily the character that this guy is,” he explains. “But she got a lot from me” ’ (Griffin, 2003). It is Harry’s (/Nicholson’s) ‘point of view’ we open with, then, as he recounts the charms of his dating pool in voiceover. This unfolds against a series of scenes of young, glamorous women out enjoying the city nightlife, and seemingly confidently courting the gaze wherever they move across this thrilling landscape (in a monologue that might seemingly have come from Nicholson himself): The sweet, uncomplicated satisfaction of the younger woman. That fleeting age when everything just falls right into place. It’s

178

178

NANCY MEYERS

magic time, and it can render any man anywhere, absolutely helpless. Some say I’m an expert on the younger woman. Guess that’s because I’ve been dating them for over 40 years. The voiceover conceit is swiftly dropped from herein. Meyers tells how she had long admired the use of the one-off, introductory narration device in Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) in this respect, and indeed this kind of opening narration as noted is a motif found across a number of Meyers’s films (see Wiggers, 2010: 68) dating back to her work with Charles Shyer on Baby Boom, also including What Women Want and The Holiday and featuring right up to The Intern. But it remains intriguing that Meyers opens in this way with Harry’s perspective and Nicholson’s distinctive tonal quality claiming the ‘storyteller’ rights. One can only speculate why Meyers might have structured the film in this fashion; perhaps because it provides an initially welcoming way in for the straight male audience, nervous that they might be about to feel thoroughly sidelined at a ‘chick flick’, by foregrounding not only the male star but the male gaze. This familiar model of objectification very much continues into the scenes that follow, as Harry arrives with Marin at their borrowed house in the Hamptons and she proceeds to do a sexy strip for him across the driveway through a series of flirtatious edits, complete with a close-up of her fly being unbuttoned.7 Or perhaps this is Meyers introducing the narrative obstacle that must be undone; namely, a culture which understands female sexuality and allure to be the province of youth, and in which the male gaze turns almost without fail on young women. Edelstein’s Slate review makes a shrewd point in this regard when he comments on how the opening’s ‘neat trick’ is to shift from ‘the male gaze’ to ‘the derisive perspective of an older woman. It’s as if she’s saying, “I’m going to dangle these babes in front of you and then make relentless fun of you for looking” ’ (2009). In fact, It’s Complicated later reproduces a structurally very similar kind of ‘neat trick’; the film opens at a thirtieth wedding anniversary party featuring a lengthy ‘male gaze’ on Jake’s young trophy wife, Agness (Lake Bell), as she sashays across the lawn in a sarong with her impressively toned abs ‘inappropriately’ on display. However, the gazing subject on-screen looking at Agness (ostensibly at least) is Jane; hence this seemingly familiarly scopophilic gaze is revealed to be un-pleasurable here, as Jane is subsequently perturbed enough by what she sees and

179

KEY CONCEPTS

179

the scene’s general awkwardness to decide it’s time for her to go home. In Something’s Gotta Give, then, the opening’s overt and seemingly discomforting foregrounding of a ‘male gaze’ might similarly be taken to be more than, or to be existing alongside, merely indulgent objectification, suggesting that if Harry is ever to form a viable adult relationship as a man now in his 60s, he will need to get past this tired preoccupation with nubile young things – which echoes the outlook which informed the celebrity press’s formation of Nicholson’s persona for many years. Numerous reviewers, then, pointed to the kind of self-consciousness the play between actor/ character brought to the film, with A. O. Scott commenting, ‘If his casting is an obvious joke, it is nonetheless a good one’ (2003). The New York Observer, meanwhile, noted on a similar though perhaps more flattering note that something of his co-star’s ‘real’ essence could be felt through the film too, as ‘Ms Keaton projects her wondrously warm personality’ (Sarris, 2004); or ‘Keaton is playing Keaton’, as Orr put it in The Atlantic (2004).

Blurred lines: Something’s Gotta Give and the convergence of star/author/character This perception of the film as appearing to blur the lines between the lead (‘real’) actors and their roles is given credence by the fact that Meyers has always acknowledged that she did indeed write the characters specifically with Keaton and Nicholson in mind (see, for example, Keefe, 2003). Furthermore, she knew Keaton well, having worked with her on a number of previous occasions (in Baby Boom, Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride Part II). Beyond professional links, the two are evidently close friends in fact (a 2005 New  York Times profile of Keaton mentions that Keaton’s 59th birthday party was held at Meyers’s house (Merkin, 2005)), and it seems telling in the context of this intimacy that Meyers always had Keaton in mind to play this fictionalized film version of herself, trusting this actor to tell Meyers’s own ‘real story’ about ‘what it’s like to be her age and single’ (Griffin, 2013). One important difference to this ‘real story’ is that the post-divorce relationship Meyers was drawing on as the basis of her story ultimately broke up, and in that sense the film plays of course not just with personal experience

180

180

NANCY MEYERS

but invention and fantasy. In more ways than one, then, one senses one is hearing Meyers’s voice very particularly and self-reflexively when, defending the romantic imagination, Erica explains her wish to write a play that ends in Paris, saying, ‘I mean people need romance like that, and if somebody like me doesn’t write it, where are they gonna get it, real life?’ (Harry and Erica, in Meyers’s story, will finally be reunited in Paris). As has been noted, it is intriguing that the bond the two women seemingly share extends to a striking physical similarity between star and writer-director; Griffin notes Meyers ‘looks strikingly like a petite version of Ms Keaton, down to her streaked affluent-mom hairstyle and cream turtleneck’ (Griffin, 2003; see also Radner, 2011). The penchant for turtlenecks observed here is particularly notable, since this garment significantly acts as a highly loaded symbolic object in Erica’s evolution in Something’s Gotta Give. Harry is perplexed that she wears them even through summer in the Hamptons; ‘You never get hot?’ he asks, knowingly. Later, when she finally drops her ‘uptight’ guard in bed with Harry, she will instruct him to cut her turtleneck off, releasing her from the restrictive and protective armour she has erected around herself. The kind of on/off screen blurring that one finds in Something’s Gotta Give has long been grappled with by scholars as a significant feature of the operation of stardom and celebrity (for example, Dyer, 1979; Geraghty, 2000), and it seems also to have been consciously and strategically played with in the film’s marketing. As Terry Keefe (2003) observes, one of the posters, featuring just two images of extreme close-ups of the stars smiling, simply has their names, ‘Jack and Diane’, in prominent print above the film’s title (nodding also to the song of the same name). While it is not unusual of course for a film poster to foreground star names in this manner, the cosy familiarity in which it uses just their first names, and the focus on the faces at the cost of attention to any other narrative image or information, seems to presume a kind of acceptance from and knowledge on the part of the audience of the stars’ ‘real’ connection. As Keefe described it in interview with Keaton, ‘The “Jack and Diane” who are being marketed here have such chemistry together that their sum is even greater than their already great parts’ (2003; see also Gates, 2004), and indeed they had previously worked together with great success in Reds (1981), for which Keaton received another of her Oscar nominations. Knowing what the (older and/or cognizant) audience likely does of Nicholson’s own

18

KEY CONCEPTS

181

predilection for younger women, then, the premise posed by the film seems to traverse over into the extra-diegetic world: going against form, could someone with Nicholson’s history fall for a woman like Keaton and of Keaton’s age in ‘real’ life? Later media speculation would ask if they were indeed a real couple (see, for example, Merkin, 2005). Indeed, one of the most intriguing and consistent elements of Meyers’s casting of her male leads has been her interest in writing and casting against type as she sees it (BAFTA, 2015), sometimes taking male stars who have a certain chauvinist edginess to them and playing with that, as she does not just with Nicholson here, but with Alec Baldwin also in It’s Complicated. Elsewhere too, in What Women Want, the action-directed, rumbustiousness of Mel Gibson’s star-meaning at this time is drawn on to steer a new path, as here ‘a pretty macho guy becomes a feminist’ (Meyers at BAFTA, 2015); the zany comedy of Jack Black is turned down as he becomes a sensitive romcom love interest in The Holiday; Robert De Niro becomes a quietly warm, wise and unassuming father figure in The Intern. And in Something’s Gotta Give, surprisingly, ‘Jack dates a woman his own age . . . I don’t really want to see people doing what they’ve done in other people’s movies’ (Meyers at BAFTA, 2015).

Shattering ‘the over-50s dating scene’ Interestingly though, perhaps the single most memorable, politically minded and acerbic speech (and certainly the most extended one) belongs to neither Keaton nor Nicholson, but to Frances McDormand, playing Erica’s sister Zoe. In an early scene at Erica’s Hamptons house, Harry, Marin, Erica and Zoe find themselves awkwardly sharing dinner together. Marin has mistakenly brought Harry there for a romantic getaway only to find her mother and aunt present also as Erica struggles to make progress on her latest play, and they are persuaded to stay after a farcical introduction in which Harry is mistaken for a burglar. Zoe, it emerges, is a Women’s Studies professor at Columbia, a disclosure which clearly leaves Harry feeling apprehensive, as the two older women get down to dissecting the minor celebrity he has attracted as a successful music entrepreneur who has never married. Cutting to the chase with a feminist interpretation of all this, Zoe points out how inequitable and objectionable the world of dating is for older women by

182

182

NANCY MEYERS

comparing Erica’s apparent situation with Harry’s. It is a speech worth quoting at length here, partly for the manner in which it sums up the thematic preoccupations of the film and underlines the obstacles that lie in the way of the would-be couple. But more than this, this scene is no equivocally felt ‘feminist-minded moment’ as I  have elsewhere in this book termed the more oblique interventions offered by some of Meyers’s work. Rather, it succinctly and declaratorily lays down the objectionable machinations of a sexistageist culture that writes off women over 50, as Zoe reconstructs that culture from the perspective of exasperated but rarely heard older women: You’ve been around the block a few times, am I  right? What are you, around sixty . . . [Harry indicates sixty-three] Fantastic! Never married, which, as we know, if you were a woman would be a curse. You’d be an old maid, a spinster. Blah blah blah. So instead of pitying you, they write articles about you. Celebrate your never marrying. You’re elusive and un-getable, a real catch. Then, there’s my gorgeous sister here . . . Look at her. She is so accomplished. The most successful female playwright since, who? Lillian Hellman? She’s over 50, divorced. And she sits in night after night after night, because the available guys her age want something . . . forgive me for saying this honey, but they want somebody that looks like Marin. So, the whole over-50s dating scene is geared towards men leaving older women out and as a result the women become more and more productive and therefore, more and more interesting. Which, in turn, makes them even less desirable, because as we all know men, especially older men, are threatened and deathly afraid of productive and interesting women. It is just so clear. Single older women as a demographic are about as fucked a group as can ever exist!8 Zoe’s speech, then, pointedly underlines how Harry and Erica will have to overcome not just their personal differences but some very considerable entrenched cultural inequities in order to get together. A  less generous response to this scene might argue Zoe’s speech belabours the film’s exegesis (and indulges concerns about ageing that may be far from foremost among older women outside Meyers’s straight, white, privileged milieu). But looked at another way, it is a striking, unusual and refreshing sequence of an older

183

KEY CONCEPTS

183

woman in a minor role in contemporary Hollywood upending a scene and making it hers, assuredly taking control when a bone of contention arises in the dialogue, and commanding an extended episode of screen time with a vibrant monologue – all to make a point about the unexplored experiences of older women. As Bruce A. Block puts it in the film’s DVD director’s commentary, ‘This is her scene. This is her home run.’ It is germane here to reflect for a moment on the findings of a 2016 survey undertaken by Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels in this respect. Seeking to give more substance to the array of discussion that has arisen in recent years around the Bechdel Test and the manner in which women characters and women’s conversation are overwhelmingly marginalized on-screen,9 they undertook to breakdown how dialogue was shared across age and gender in 2,000 screenplays (Anderson and Daniels, 2016). They found that men had the most dialogue in 78 per cent of the films in their sample; that ‘even romantic comedies have dialogue that is, on average, 58 per cent male’; and that dialogue available to women over 40 decreased substantially. In the age range 42–65, then, women got just 20 per cent of all female dialogue as a whole, whereas men of this age got the most dialogue of anyone on screen (in claiming 39 per cent of

FIGURE 4.1 Zoe (Frances McDormand) delivers her ‘home run’, calling out the inequities of ageing, gender and dating in Something’s Gotta Give.

184

184

NANCY MEYERS

all male dialogue). According to Anderson’s and Daniels’s survey, in It’s Complicated, we find that Jane Adler at 4,53 words gets more dialogue than Jake and Adam combined (at 2,67 and 1,48, respectively), and women speak more over all, with 54 per cent of the dialogue. Interestingly, in Something’s Gotta Give, Harry speaks more than Erica (at 6,09 and 4,97, respectively), but women speak more overall collectively (with 52 per cent of the dialogue). In fact, one wonders whether the continued complaints that Meyers’s two-hour+ films are ‘aimless’ (Ide, 2004) and ‘needlessly [stretched] out’ (Foundas, 2003), as Something’s Gotta Give was deemed by some critics, is in fact often a veiled complaint about women talking too much. In a world where the Bechdel Test needs to exist, audiences are simply not used to hearing women’s voices on screen for any great length of time. Meyers’s repudiation of this silencing has seemingly grated on some reviewers, who, for example, seem bothered by Jane in It’s Complicated ‘shrieking delightedly about her predicament with three chums’ (French, 2010) and ‘blabbing about it (endlessly)’ (Biancolli, 2009). Both position Jane’s talk as excessive prattle, just as Dargis bemoans The Holiday somewhat for there being ‘a lot of chatter’ (2006), while Ann Hornaday too is perplexed on finding herself endlessly ‘watching – and watching, and watching  –’ The Holiday, being moved to exclaim ‘My God, these people natter on’ (2006). The question of what critics really mean when they say Meyers’s films are ‘too long’ is thus a curious one, not least since in other cinematic contexts being prepared to be ‘long’ is a virtue, a marker of a text that is testing boundaries (the audience’s, film conventions) and of a certain artistry and thoughtfulness. By contrast, in criticism of Meyers, her making films that are ‘too long’ signals a certain lack of control of the material, of letting stories meander, of not being strict enough in the edit suite. Furthermore, the fact that these kinds of scenes and Meyers’s films generally are recurrently perceived as too long might be thought to speak at times to the fact that they are also addressing a ‘mature’ sense of temporality and an older audience who ‘have time’. This ‘having time’ is the case both in the sense that they will more readily give time over to longer films, and that, having lived through more time, they could be said to have a different relationship with ‘prolonged’ time.10 Meyers’s taste for extended dialogue could certainly be thought to adhere to such a model of duration compared to much of contemporary Hollywood cinema. She acknowledges

185

KEY CONCEPTS

185

how she breaks with the prevailing trend here, when she discusses the ‘date’ scene in Something’s Gotta Give on the DVD director’s commentary, in which Harry and Erica take a stroll on the beach, saying, ‘I also like how long this scene is, because I  think scenes in movies have gotten shorter and shorter and shorter . . . It’s fun to hear them talk for so long. It’s really the length of a walk on the beach’. And audience research has certainly suggested that the older audiences who have been increasingly returning to the cinema in recent years are not drawn to ‘effects-heavy spectaculars [that] generally leave them cold’ (Cox, 2012) (which are by their nature more likely to be lighter on character development and conversation). Rather, they ‘above all [warm] to good stories with rounded characters’ (ibid., my emphasis) – stories which need not be lengthy in duration, but which in contemporary, mainstream, sound cinema generally require some measure of talk. To have a minor female character of Zoe/McDormand’s age take the stage for a speech like hers, then, really is a standout moment not just in the film’s telling, but for ‘older’ women who hardly get to speak anywhere in Hollywood. It is interesting, therefore, that Hilary Radner suggests Something’s Gotta Give leaves Zoe ‘marginalized’ (2011: 179) and ‘[sidesteps] the feminist by seemingly proving her wrong’ (2011: 188), noting that despite what Zoe says, Erica subsequently does become the object of romantic pursuit in the film. But not only does Zoe very memorably steal the scene here despite being a supporting character, there is nothing in the film to suggest she is ‘wrong’ in the larger scheme of things. Erica’s later life romances are constructed as surprising, unexpected and not representative of wider culture, as underlined not only by Harry’s history but by the film’s other passing nods to the prevalence of other older men partnering up with much younger women (cf. the couple canoodling in the Hamptons’ store, leading Erica to remark under her breath ‘It’s an epidemic!’; or her ex-husband’s forthcoming remarriage to a woman only two years older than Marin, which prompts a crisis for their daughter). Of course, as a supporting character, Zoe’s overall function in the story is rather more negligible than the other guests at the dinner table here – and there is an evident sense that with her more casual clothes and unpolished appearance, her undetermined romantic and potentially non-heteronormative status, she doesn’t quite ‘fit’ in this world. (‘Boys lie’, her t-shirt reads, or perhaps forewarns, when we first meet her in Erica’s house – and in this sense the

186

186

NANCY MEYERS

film proves her right, when Harry later squirmingly tries to explain to Erica in a post-Hamptons showdown that he has ‘always told her some version of the truth’). Tellingly, as Wearing notes (2007: 307), Zoe is absent from the scenes of the three-generation family happily coming together in the film’s ending, for example. But in this Hamptons dinner scene she brings the ludicrous sexism and ageism of that world crashing down with aplomb. Indeed, McDormand, a hugely respected and admired Oscar-winning actor herself, indicates in the film’s press pack that she took the role largely because of this monologue; ‘It was that dinner table speech that did it for me’ (Sony Pictures, 2003). In contrast to Zoe’s extended speech, the earlier part of the dining scene delivers one of the great conventions and pleasures of the romcom – the lively verbal jousting that the would-be couple indulges in. As Erica witheringly censures Harry’s crude recollection of how his ex-girlfriend Diane Sawyer possessed ‘the greatest pair of legs I’ve ever seen’, she shows she can more than hold her own with him, underlining again how the romcom often affords older women actors more potentially satisfying performance and narrative opportunities than are typically open to them, while in the process demonstrating the essential generic ‘sparkiness’ that exists between her and Harry. And at another level, the climax of the scene as delivered by Zoe might just as easily be understood as pointing to the differences between Keaton’s and Nicholson’s ‘real’ lives as they have been constructed in the media; while not presuming for a moment that Diane Keaton sits in ‘night after night after night’, there is no denying that Nicholson’s on/off bachelor and ‘player’ status has been embraced as part of his persona, while Keaton’s never having married despite a number of high-profile romances has marked her as going against the grain and constitutes part of her ‘oddball charm’ (Gliatto, 2004) and quirkiness, or reputation for idiosyncrasy. While according to these gendered discourses and the construction of their star personas, no one ever managed to ‘get’ (or rather to keep) Nicholson, Keaton, by contrast, never managed to get someone. Following supper, later that evening Harry has a heart attack just as he and Marin are about to consummate their relationship, and he reluctantly becomes Erica’s temporary house guest in the Hamptons when his doctor, Julian, insists he remain there to convalesce. Gradually Harry and Erica warm to one another, bonding

187

KEY CONCEPTS

187

in their bathrobes over late-night snacks in the kitchen, and, with Marin’s blessing after she and Harry have split, the two begin an affair before Harry inevitably gets cold feet. However, throughout this, Erica is also being enthusiastically pursued by younger-man Julian, and she eventually commences a new relationship with him. After years in the ‘over-50s’ dating wilderness, then, Erica embarks on the rediscovery of love and sex and finds herself reinvigorated in middle age (or ‘rejuvenated’, to use Sadie Wearing’s term (2007)),11 ultimately reuniting with Harry once he realizes how superficial his weakness for younger women has been. What is striking here about the film is not just the emotion and comic flair of Keaton’s performance, or its willingness to pursue a narrative in which an older woman is given subjectivity in a romantic plot, but the loving warmth with which she is filmed. This is a film which clearly adores its older leading lady, photographing her and costuming her in simple but flattering ways, in classically cut clothes, showcasing Keaton’s trim figure and good skin. But it does so in a manner which wants to reason that a woman of her age can still be considered beautiful in our youth-obsessed culture, as Harry and Julian both declare, importantly without wanting to suggest that she looks, or is, any younger than she actually is. Keaton is recurrently dressed in a neutral colour scheme of whites, creams and beige in the film, along with black ensembles most particularly for her evenings out with Julian, and the prevalence of this light costume palette serves two functions. First, it has the effect of flattering her skin tone, working with the cinematography to emphasize hers as being a ‘natural’ rather than overly madeup or surgically enhanced beauty. Second, it visually embeds her as being at one with the classic, elegant colour scheme and refined surroundings of her beautiful home in the Hamptons, aptly described by an impressed Harry when he first sees it as ‘the perfect beach house’. Just like an aspirational retreat in the Hamptons, then, Erica is understated, tasteful, classic. She and the space of her breathtaking home by the beach become extensions of one another, not just through their shared design, aesthetic and colour palette, but since her work as a writer necessitates she spend long periods of solitary time there. An attractive older woman here is not one who can ‘pass’ for someone her junior or ‘get away with’ what are known disparagingly as ‘age-inappropriate’ clothes. Beauty, attractiveness, experience and maturity are not in tension here. Rather, they converge, a

18

188

NANCY MEYERS

notion which comes to full fruition later in It’s Complicated when Adam (Martin) tells Jane (Streep), who is struggling to be fully convinced he could be serious about dating a woman of her years, that ‘your age is one of my favourite things about you’. Of course, Keaton ‘looks good for her age’, as that most troublingly sideways ‘compliment’ would have it. But as American critic Mimi Swartz speculated in a 2004 radio discussion of the film on NPR’s ‘Day to Day’ in the United States, she also looks as if she has eschewed the plastic surgery so prevalent among her peers in Hollywood (a stance that Streep has also become known for). For Swartz, what marked this film as ‘different’ from the onset was the fact of being in a cinema, ‘sitting there staring at a normal-looking 56-year-old woman, which to me is very radical’ (Swartz, 2004). Numerous reviews of the film, such as Swartz’s, championed the actor and the film for bringing an authentic (if lovingly photographed) face to female ageing. As Scott Foundas observed, in an otherwise generally rather derogatory Variety review of Something’s Gotta Give which nevertheless lauded Keaton for her ‘luminous, full-bodied star turn’, she is ‘radiantly lit . . . so that she looks her age, but in a way that makes others want to accelerate their own ageing processes’ (2003). Ageing here, then, is not necessarily something to be despised or feared, unlike the bulk of Hollywood representations of older women that came before it. Similarly, the film takes pleasure in Erica’s pleasure, not discreetly fading to black when she and Harry begin to kiss and eventually have sex, as Hollywood typically does given its distaste for mature sexuality, though in keeping with the generic constraints of a classically styled, PG-13 rated film, Meyers doesn’t represent their lovemaking in a sexually explicit fashion. Neither does it play its middle-aged sex scene solely for laughs, though the comedy aspect of ‘romcom’ is very much present in the consummation of their relationship. Pre-empting their first kiss, Meyers playfully heaps on an excessive array of erotic and romantic signifiers – the two are caught in a sudden rainstorm on the beach and must run like excited children back home as lightning crashes about them; a power cut necessitates that they surround themselves with the flattering warmth of candlelight; and, as The Flamingos’ overtly sultry ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ kicks in on the soundtrack, they share their first kiss (see also Jermyn and McCabe, 2013). The aptness of their match is signalled by the fact that previously

189

KEY CONCEPTS

189

Harry had felt compelled to take Viagra before (anticipating) sex with Marin (thus figuring it as ‘unnatural’ sex, as Wearing notes (2007:  304)). With Erica, he indicates with a satisfied smile and a wryly raised eyebrow, no such chemical assistance is needed in order for ‘Mr Midnight’ to function. But alongside its moments of humour there is also a genuine joyfulness in this scene, where Erica ends a long period of celibacy with Harry. Meyers conveys an impetus to capture the swell of different emotional and physical responses Erica is experiencing, in a sequence which constitutes an important emotional highpoint in the film even while it allows for moments of farcical light-relief (most notably Erica’s insistence on taking Harry’s blood pressure during foreplay). She is not merely the object of Harry’s desire here, then, but is very much herself rendered active and desiring. As indicated above, and as Wearing (2007: 301) and others have noted, the scene contains a highly symbolic moment when at Erica’s insistence Harry takes a pair of scissors to one of her signature white turtleneck sweaters as they kiss in bed. In doing so he releases her from the constraints this sartorial motif has represented, marking and celebrating her re-entry into the active sexuality denied to her since her divorce, it seems. As I  have argued elsewhere, it would be reductive indeed to suggest that it is only or even predominantly the erasure of older women’s sexuality that is the crux of the problem in their (non)representation, or that this is somehow all that Hollywood needs to address to bring about equity (Jermyn, 2012: 50). But here, and throughout, the film inherently critiques a culture which often depicts sexual desire in older women as something shameful and embarrassing and which endorses the belief that ‘post-menopausal’ women are no longer sexual; indeed that single women of this age should not expect to be sexually active again – a sentiment Erica voices as she cries with happiness and relief after having sex when she tells Harry, ‘I really thought I was sort of closed up for business’. Hence, Margaret Tally notes that these ‘older bird chick flicks’ importantly represent the woman’s ‘newfound sexuality’ as ‘a kind of recovery of a lost self, and a way to be in the world that is not defined solely by their roles as a parent, wife, or worker’ (2008: 130). And before we can dismiss Erica’s post-coital tears as trite, or the scene as endorsing a tired gendered stereotype about women’s emotionality and sex, to his and our surprise, Harry begins to cry too.

190

190

NANCY MEYERS

An ambivalent departure? The politics of the older romcom heroine Later, after the two share a bed to sleep and lie-in late together (unheard of in Harry’s sexual ‘rulebook’ and unanticipated for both of them as insomniacs) and having exchanged a series of intimate confidences, Harry’s convalescence must end and he leaves the Hamptons. In a moving scene shortly afterwards, Erica confronts him in rage and shame outside a New York restaurant when to her horror she discovers he is evidently already out on a date with another (young) woman. The emotional showdown that ensues prompts another health emergency for Harry and he is rushed to hospital a second time. After seeing rehearsals for her play A Woman to Love, in which the character ‘Henry’, evidently based on him, dies and the dialogue as well as the play’s title has been ripped from him, he ends up back in ER again. Importantly, it is this final health scare that instigates a period of prolonged reflection where he contacts his ex-girlfriends in order to try and understand their post-relationship analysis of his failings. Only then is he able to return to Erica, who has turned her heartbreak into success by making a hit Broadway play out of their doomed affair, much as Meyers of course has turned her own dating experiences into a hit film. He seeks her out in Paris, to apologize, make amends and in the hope of moving on to a fulfilling adult relationship with a peer that is emotionally and spiritually fulfilling, as much as it is sexually satisfying. As with Nick in What Women Want, the reflective processes activated by his relationship with the heroine have prompted his emotional growth, which for Deborah M. Sims importantly entails Harry ‘taking accountability for his misogyny’ (2014: 201). She notes that ‘it is not until Harry begins to actively engage with matters of gender, literally viewing the world through women’s lenses as he and Erica accidentally switch glasses for the latter half of the film’, that their relationship can come to fruition (ibid.). By the time he finds her, however, he must win her over from his younger rival, Julian. The fact that Erica is pursued and loved finally not merely by Harry but by a dashing accomplished younger man played by heartthrob Keanu Reeves, no less, can be taken as key to its fantastical, escapist qualities and pleasures, where the older woman finally becomes the aspirational centre of the story. So too

19

KEY CONCEPTS

191

is it the case that in this way the film toys with but cannot deliver the possibility of a less conventional outcome for Erica, where she might have been either in a relationship with Julian by the film’s end, or indeed remained entirely romantically unattached. Hence, for Tally, even while these ‘older bird chick flicks’ offer challenges to ‘stereotypes of middle-aged women as sexless and over the hill’, they exhibit an ‘ambivalence towards women’s sexuality [in] their almost compulsive need to show that these women come back into the family fold’ (2008: 130); while for Wearing, Something’s Gotta Give enacts ‘a policing of intergenerational sexuality’ (2007: 278). By the end, Harry has matured, coming to his senses to finally move on from his fixation with young women; Erica no longer faces a future ‘alone’; and the once commitment-phobic Marin has taken up her place in the next generation of wives and mothers. Looked at like this, the film can be read as endorsing a conservative and familiarly narrow agenda indeed, where everyone by the end is settled down, and with the ‘right’ partner. And yet still, for the two hours preceding it, audiences will have been ensconced in the deliberations, fears and hopes of a 50-something woman in the kind of reflective, searching and indeed affectionate detail that Hollywood has for decades almost entirely denied them. In this way the ending of the film neatly encapsulates how the film continually tussles with the difficult tensions that lie between its seemingly conservative and progressive impulses. An older woman is allowed to come to the fore as a romantic heroine, but apparently only within the terms of established cultural constraints. She seems to constitute an important emblematic figure for women refusing to be written off as they age; but how ‘representative’ can a figure such as Erica really ever hope or claim to be? Let us not forget, for example, that her apparently simple wardrobe, and trim figure, like her home, in truth undeniably speak of abundant class privilege; indeed Swartz comments that Keaton is arguably in better shape than the average American teenager (2003). While the film does not foreground Keaton’s slender body in obvious ways, such as revealing outfits (though there is one very brief nude shot of her which was highly trailed in publicity and prompts a farcically horrified reaction from Harry), it simultaneously underplays the work that must likely go into maintaining her evidently lean, toned figure. The kind of graft or diligence this normatively enviable (white, classed) body necessitates, the unavoidable labour it represents for most ordinary

192

192

NANCY MEYERS

women of Keaton’s age in comparable shape to her, is completely absented, in some ways again becoming part of the escapist, fantasy landscape of the romcom.12 But rather than only signalling a kind of dishonesty on the part of romantic comedy, the complex operations of fantasy are part of the genre’s foundational bedrock, just as they are in other genres like science fiction or horror. As noted, and as Betty Kaklamanidou reminds us, romcoms ‘mix cultural with generic verisimilitude, which in essence represents the conventions of a film genre the audience accepts’ (2013: 89, my emphasis). It is generic verisimilitude, then, that accounts for why: Consequently [many] romantic comedy heroes and heroines live in apartments they cannot afford, do not seem to work and/or seem to own entire wardrobes of designer clothes. However, even though this lack of ‘authenticity’ is the context upon which a romantic comedy is constructed and is expected by the majority of audiences, it is also one of the main or ‘certainly one of the reasons why [these genres] tend to be despised, or at least misunderstood, by critics in the “quality” press’. (Neale, 1990: 162; Kaklamanidou, 2013: 89) Kaklamanidou’s evoking of Neale’s account of how critics almost wilfully seek to object to ‘low’ genres like romcom without attentiveness to their conventions and internal mechanisms is certainly symptomatic of Meyers’s critical reception, as we have seen. Nevertheless, here, despite the casting of a star who has apparently eschewed surgery, and the sense of discretion, ‘good taste’ and subtlety in the film’s celebration of Keaton as a desirable and desiring older woman, she nevertheless still represents a distant kind of unobtainable image or ideal for very many women. As Sontag notes, the experience of ageing, and the rate at which one is perceived to have aged, is predicated on class; ‘poor people look much older earlier in their lives than do rich people’ (1972), she writes. But class is strangely everywhere and nowhere in this film and indeed in It’s Complicated. It is virtually unspoken,13 yet written in bold across every frame, in every aspect of the quietly lavish miseen-scène, where everyone is innately comfortable in multimillion dollar homes. Moreover, Erica is understood to be hugely successful, a leading light among contemporary playwrights. But, while work for other

193

KEY CONCEPTS

193

of Meyers’s heroines is on occasion signalled at some length as complex and sometimes trying, even while gratifying and profitable (for example, in What Women Want and The Intern), the substance of Erica’s (lucrative) labour remains somehow pleasantly abstract other than a montage of emotional outbursts at the typewriter and some consultation in the rehearsals for her play. This image is in keeping with a neoliberal notion of work, in which rewarding, creative labour is configured as a kind of seamless extension of one’s interests and passions, and in which attention to the actual conditions of labour (and rising levels of precarity) is absented.14 The same can be said of It’s Complicated, where Jane is evidently able to fund an ambitious remodelling project of her already splendid Santa Barbara home with the living she makes from her upmarket patisserie-café business. Yet the scenes of Jane at work there convey that this ‘labour’ is barely distinguishable from the evident pleasure she takes in cooking for, feeding and nurturing her family and friends at home. ‘Work’ again becomes a kind of idealized fulfilment of that which elsewhere too fulfils, enthuses and motivates one, in scenes lovingly finessed by food stylist Susan Spungen. In this respect it is telling that, arguably, the key transitional moment in Jane’s and Adam’s courtship in which they share their first sensual kiss takes place ‘at work’, as she bakes fresh croissants for him at her patisserie, in a playful but erotically charged scene where preparing and sharing food together signals desire (see also Schreiber, 2014: 154). (Indeed, as noted, similarly the kitchen is also where Harry and Erica too first share a tangible, transitional ‘moment’ of attraction in which their relationship ramps up a level; in general, food forms an important part of the fantasy landscape of Meyers’s films, which Lennon describes as replete with ‘delicious-looking food that never makes you fat’ (2009)). Hence, Daphne Merkin has commented that work for Meyers’s heroines is ‘more gestural than fully conceived. (If writing hit plays were as easy as it looks in Something’s Gotta Give, we would all be doing it)’ (2009). This seemingly non-concretized attention to women’s work-lives here is symptomatic of romantic comedy as a genre rather than merely Meyers, where generic verisimilitude often suggests that a lucrative living can be made from satisfying, enjoyable work that doesn’t seem particularly taxing. Furthermore, it also corresponds with the perspective on work that Diane Negra has identified as indicative of postfeminist culture, exemplified by films in which the plot ‘does not entirely separate its heroine from achievement but

194

194

NANCY MEYERS

FIGURE 4.2 Jane (Meryl Streep) and Adam (Steve Martin) get closer after-hours over croissants at her lavish Santa Barbara bakery in It’s Complicated.

minimizes her accomplishments by making them incidental to emotional transformation and the attainment of intimacy’ (2009: 94). In Something’s Gotta Give, as with It’s Complicated arguably, this perspective also bolsters a sense that Erica’s central realm is overwhelmingly the orbit of the home; she is placed primarily in the domestic space by virtue of working from home, where her daughter and sister visit freely and her ‘office’ is not really identifiable as such by virtue of being a desk at her bedroom window looking out to the beach (while for Jane, as noted, the spaces of work and home both centre on the pleasures of cooking, eating and food, and thus blur the professional/domestic). And yet somewhat contradictorily, these are films where clearly women’s work does matter; where it is a source of satisfaction, a vocation, a key constituent of identity, for Erica, Zoe and Marin, and for Jane too. This is a motif in Meyers’s work which at one level could be read as a galvanizing, pleasurable feminist impulse evident across her oeuvre, and at another to be helping bolster the opacity of ‘passionate work’ in contemporary discourse in a manner that abets the neoliberalist project (see McRobbie, 2015). Undeniably, hers is a depiction of work that is abstracted from the harsh realities of employment for most women (and men); as Suzanne Leonard notes, ‘millions of women work

195

KEY CONCEPTS

195

not to claim a professional identity or at jobs in which they are personally invested but because the financial realities of American life make economic survival otherwise impossible’ (2007:  105). But that lavish home in the Hamptons is Erica’s – paid for by her labour, her talent, and Meyers ensures we know this early on in the film, by having Marin explain to Harry that she bought it after writing a Broadway hit. It is important to Meyers to state this (as it is also in The Holiday, where we soon learn that Amanda came to own her impressive hi-spec mansion due to her lucrative business making film-trailers), even though that labour when we see it is rendered warmly intangible as actual work, for example, in the comical scenes of her weeping and laughing hysterically as she types her new play about Harry. Indeed Meyers has explained of Erica’s home, ‘It’s the dream kitchen . . . I did that on purpose. Do you know why? She’s a single woman, who made this money for the first time, and this is the gift she gave herself’ (Bayou, 2013). Finally, while older women/younger men relationships have apparently become increasingly commonplace, if the much reported rise of ‘the cougar’ is anything to go by (see Kaklamanidou, 2012; 2013), as noted, they still remain ultimately taboo in Something’s Gotta Give; the film opens up the possibility of Erica sharing a relationship with Julian, but ultimately finds it untenable. Eventually she rejects her relationship with Julian/Reeves, a loving but ‘inappropriate’ younger man, to take the culturally sanctioned path of a relationship with Harry/Nicholson (see Tally, 2008: 129), a man more broadly of her own generation. The final scenes of the film, in which Harry and Erica (now married, as their wedding rings discreetly indicate) meet at a restaurant with Marin accompanied by her new husband and their young baby, confirm, on the one hand, that the rights and desires of this older woman have been vindicated, but also that social order has been reinstated in the constituting of this normative nuclear family arrangement. The ‘natural’ relationship, by contrast with Erica and Julian, is that of Erica and Harry – evidenced very visually in the film in the scenes where the couple are colour coded in whites and pastels together at the beach, as they walk and sit by the ocean, in harmony with their surroundings – though Harry is in fact not far off a decade Erica’s senior. Interestingly, the same kind of match emerges later in The Intern, where at 70 Ben eschews the possibility of dating a woman configured as close to his own actual age as a distasteful prospect,

196

196

NANCY MEYERS

played for laughs at her expense, when Patty (Linda Lavin) makes advances and ‘comes across as some kind of gorgon and sends him fleeing in horror’ (Farber, 2015). Instead he becomes romantically involved with still-sexy masseuse Fiona (Rene Russo), who while figured as an ‘older woman’ is nevertheless a decade his junior. As Wearing notes of these images of Harry and Erica on the beach, the film’s ‘generationally appropriate coupling is reinforced by romantic iconography’ (2007: 279), yet one might equally say that Erica’s fancy restaurant dinners with Julian draw on ‘romantic iconography’. More specifically, what is at stake in these beach scenes is that, in a familiarly conservative fashion, they help to naturalize Erica’s and Harry’s relationship by quite literally placing them together in nature (see also Jermyn and McCabe, 2013). Together, what all these seeming incongruities and perhaps rather reactionary flashpoints in the film speak to are the inherent contradictions and tensions that are at work within it, as they are in many of the representations of the mature romcom heroine. Though these films at one level offer promising glimmers of a more utopic vision of older women, equally, any ‘feminism’ they might be said to propound is far from unproblematic; indeed, to suggest there could ever be consensus on what would constitute a universally gratifying, satisfying image of a fully fleshed-out, multidimensional older woman in contemporary Hollywood anyway is, of course, hopeless folly. Still, messy as they may be, Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated at the very least constitute efforts to represent the ‘women of a certain age’ Hollywood has for so long overwhelmingly erased. They may well be flawed in execution, but if box office figures are anything to go by, they have nevertheless evidently been welcomed by substantial audiences, including those ‘middle-aged moviegoers about to expire from an absence of romantic characters over 40’ (Gates, 2004)  – and undeniably bring with them some significant pleasures and rewards even while they fall short of an elusive, ultimately impossible, ideal subject. The recent extraordinary career resurgence of Meryl Streep too as the female lead in a number of films that might be called romance stories of one kind or another provides further evidence of the place for such narratives in contemporary Hollywood, including, for example, not merely It’s Complicated in 2009, but Mamma Mia! (2008), Hope Springs (2012) and even Ricki and the Flash (2015). Though all pursuing romantic themes, not all of

197

KEY CONCEPTS

197

these would be readily termed romcoms, and not all their box office takings proved momentous, but even Ricki and the Flash’s fairly modest $40m worldwide takings represented a very healthy profit on the film’s $18m dollar budget (boxofficemojo.com). In this final section I reflect on the implications of Streep’s changing persona as an ageing woman star, and on the reception of It’s Complicated for feminist analysis of older women and contemporary cinema. From a thematic concern with the neglected exploration of ageing and mother-daughter intimacy in the musical Mamma Mia!, to the sexuality and desire of/for an older woman in It’s Complicated, to the quotidian details of a faltering long-term marriage and the loss of desire between an ageing couple in Hope Springs, Streep’s films in this period have bolstered the drive in the industry to reflect on what it imagines a mainstream audience, and the substance of popular romance, might be. None of the synopses just proffered here speak to dominant conceptions of high-concept filmmaking or stories that would generally lend themselves to a mainstream ‘pitch’ – scenarios that have afforded so little space to older women stars in contemporary cinema. Yet Mamma Mia! went on to be the most successful film of all time in the United Kingdom at the point of its release, It’s Complicated grossed more than $112m at US cinemas (boxofficemojo.com) and Hope Springs was greenlit via the industry cachet not just of Streep’s star-power, but the major box office pedigree of director David Frankel (Marley and Me (2008); The Devil Wears Prada (2006)). What might Streep’s rise to prominence as a kind of figurehead for the return of older women to Hollywood, as borne out by It’s Complicated, suggest about the industry’s changing relationship with ageing women stars and audiences?

It’s not complicated; it’s a gerontocom It can be assumed that buoyed up by the cultural impact of Mamma Mia! and the flourishing star currency of Streep (boosted too as noted by the success of Julie and Julia in 2009), and perhaps with memories also of Something’s Gotta Give in mind for some, many of the same women audiences likely returned to cinemas over the holidays in 2009/10 for the release of Meyers’s It’s Complicated. Here, professionally- successful- but- romantically- challenged- divorcee Jane Adler unexpectedly embarks on an affair with her ex-husband

198

198

NANCY MEYERS

Jake (Alec Baldwin) following a drunken fling with him at their son’s graduation, as romance simultaneously begins to blossom with Adam (Steve Martin), the architect remodelling her kitchen. Just when empty-nest syndrome might typically be expected to kick in, Jane is instead revitalized by a twin-pronged romantic revival. In line with Meyers’s insistence that she writes her male characters just as thoughtfully as her women (BAFTA, 2015), one might very well argue that It’s Complicated is a film about male mid-life crisis as much as a woman’s experience of ageing. Both Adam and Jane have been through painful divorces, but, after time and therapy, Jane is now at peace with this chapter of her history whereas for Adam it is still agonizingly raw; he listens to earnest self-help CDs while he drives, beseeching him to let go of the past, and is far more anxious than Jane about risking new hurt by embarking on another relationship. Meanwhile, for all his bravado, charm and ostensible Alpha-male success, when pressed, Jake admits he feels his world is crashing down around his ears. He is at the beck and call of his intimidating young wife, Agness, and her hyperactive 5-year-old son Pedro, and at a time in his life when he had imagined he would be starting to retreat from the office and coast a little, he is being compelled to think about buying a bigger property and fathering another child at Agness’s insistence. He evidently rues the day his infidelity cost him the marriage and home comforts he once shared with Jane, admitting, ‘I’m a walking cliché.’ Sitting by Jane’s bath one evening contentedly eating her home-made ice-cream, he tells her, ‘I love how quiet it is in your house . . . I have no quiet in my life. Ever’, before he confesses, ‘My marriage is . . . not turning out as I hoped.’ Hence it is Jake who pursues Jane relentlessly, refusing to be knocked back by her resistance to the idea of their having an affair, and floundering desperately as he pins his hopes on this potential second-chance with her as a means to put his life back in order. By contrast, and though not without her anxieties, since her divorce, Jane has evidently built a highly successful patisserie business, is close to her children, enjoys the friendship and support of a loving circle of friends and is embarking on long-held plans to build a new and much longed-for extension to her (already impressive) home.15 Indeed, it is Jake, rather than Jane, who seems most nostalgic for the domestic life they once had, as he looks longingly at the family assembled together at her home after he leaves Agness and,

19

KEY CONCEPTS

199

inveigling himself an invitation to stay, suggests they have a ‘movie night, just like old times’. Cuddled up with his children on the sofa, he mouths to Jane, ‘I’m so happy.’ It is Jane too who will finally call the affair off, telling Jake, ‘I’ve had a pretty good life these last 10 years. I have figured it out. I no longer feel alone, or divorced. I just feel normal.’ In keeping with this perspective, Alex Hobbs has observed of Something’s Gotta Give, It’s Complicated and other ‘recent mature love stories’ that men, it is generalized, ignore social, and perhaps chronological, age and hope to persuade themselves of their youth with sex; whereas women, well aware of the physical changes to their body, use creativity to offset other diminished roles. In these films at least, approaches to aging are engendered and hierarchized, with women’s attitude deemed the more positive and healthy response. As might be expected for films that are presumed to engage women, it is the women who are the saner, more welladjusted mature adults. (Hobbs, 2013: 45) Given all this, and the fact of Meyers’s frank admission that these films speak to her own experiences as an older divorced woman on the dating market, it is the female stars in both Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated that have generated the most interest, and it is their roles that have been received as the most textured. Again, none of this is to say that Jane is constructed as entirely content with her lot, as some telling moments infer. In a planning meeting with her architects, she instructs them not to build ‘his and her’ basins in her new bathroom; there is no ‘him’, no prospect of a ‘him’ likely again in her view, she admits, and the unused extra basin makes her ‘feel bad’. In another scene early in the film, her youngest daughter leaves home and she faces the night on her own there. Clearing the debris of a meal away, she gazes alone out the kitchen window for just a moment, and the audience anticipates that a familiar melancholy vision of an older woman left to contemplate the ‘empty nest’ is about to unfold; but then she quickly catches herself, and seems to stop the reverie before it takes hold. Jane is still bold, vital and very much her own woman; when her children disappointingly cancel the dinner plans she’d made for them all in New York at her son’s graduation, she doesn’t permit herself to sit alone in her hotel with room service. Instead, she makes a confident

20

200

NANCY MEYERS

entrance into the bar, sashaying in solo and asking for a table for one before she bumps into Jake there, and events take a rather more colourful turn than she’d anticipated. As It’s Complicated’s early scenes indicate, films centring on older romantic heroines often seem compelled to position their female heroines as mothers, or as women with some regret that motherhood never presented itself; and indeed one of the established character types that has remained relatively available to 50+ women actors in Hollywood is that of the indulgent, domineering or interfering mother/mother-in-law/matriarch. Hence heroines in the mature relationship romcom subgenre often bear some of the hallmarks of the ‘overprotective mother’ or ‘mother hen’, including Jane in It’s Complicated to some degree. These women’s familial status as mothers seem to be made prominent almost as if to reassure audiences that while in some respects they might appear dysfunctional, or out of step with ‘the normative stages of the female lifecycle’ (Negra, 2009:  61), they are nevertheless ‘normal’ (i.e. maternal) and typically were part of a conventional family structure once upon a time. For Negra, ‘the postfeminist celebration of mothering’ and ‘hypermaternity among economically elite white

FIGURE 4.3 ‘A table for one’: An elegant Jane sashays confidently into her hotel bar in New York, before things take an unexpected turn with exhusband Jake in It’s Complicated.

201

KEY CONCEPTS

201

women’ have become ever greater indices of culturally sanctioned femininity; ‘motherhood redeems, it transforms, it enriches, it elevates’ (Negra, 2009: 65), and is certainly central to Meyers’s configuration of Erica and Jane as high-achieving women, albeit within a portfolio of other accomplishments and relationships. Within these filmic accounts of motherhood, the representation of mothers and daughters is particularly interesting at this time since the generationalism at stake in this relationship has emerged as a key theme also in the cultural discourses surrounding postfeminism. The mother–daughter relationship has been widely invoked as a parallel to the generationality frequently apparent in accounts of the relationship between second-wave feminism and postfeminism:  a relationship in which the ‘old’ is perceived as outmoded and archaic and the ‘new’ as young and progressive. Something’s Gotta Give is built on a premise that could very easily have fostered this competitive model, as mother and daughter are romantically interested in the same man. Any hint of rivalry is quickly quashed, however, and instead mother and daughter must support and learn from each other, albeit in order to reproduce socially sanctioned models of appropriate mating. Marin, then, entreats Erica to admit to and act on the desires she has stifled since her divorce, while Erica, having done so and had ‘the time of her life’, entreats Marin to take a risk and open herself up to the possibility of love even if it results in heartache, beseeching her, ‘What are you waiting for?’ In It’s Complicated the older daughter Lauren presents no such concerns, since she is engaged and planning her marriage to the infinitely likeable, dependable Harley. Instead, though, the disconcerting spectre of postfeminist generational rivalry is to be found in the film’s portrayal of Agness. She is ostracized and marked with a symbolic scarlet letter from the onset (visually transposed here into an alarmingly ‘scary tiger’ tattoo as Adam puts it), since it was Agness that Jake originally left Jane for. The irony and poetic justice of the events that ensue is thus not lost on Jane, who announces to her friends with some glee, ‘I’m having an affair with Agness Adler’s husband!’, having been the original Mrs Adler herself. Still, Agness is arguably one of Meyers’s least thoughtfully drawn characters here, largely a terse, dour and demanding sketch of what older men have to fear once their young trophy wives get a ring on their finger, curtailing Jake’s aspirations to start winding things down in the workplace and demanding a baby via un-erotic sex-on-demand

20

202

NANCY MEYERS

and fertility treatment that will mean he can expect to attend his future offspring’s graduation at the age of 79. Undermining any easy claims to a feminist project again here, it is discomforting to note that to help build empathy for Jane, Meyers has to make Agness quite monstrous. Interestingly though, Meyers has indicated it was important to her that Agness was not portrayed as a villainess and that she was more textured than a one-dimensional antagonist, telling Creative Screenwriter magazine that ‘I actually went out of my way to make her clearly a working person who supports herself . . . She’s not a gold digger. I don’t think she’s a bad person at all. I think she and Jake made a mistake’ (Clines, 2009: 27). The house party scene is crucial in this respect, in that fleeting moment when Agness sees her husband dancing and talking with Jane and a painful moment of recognition, as she grasps the fact of their affair, moves across her face and marks her as actually being, like everyone else, human, vulnerable and fallible. However one might read Agness, she was not perceived as a problem in the film’s general reception. Achieving a global box office return of more than $219m,16 It’s Complicated proved crucial to Streep’s shifting star persona in this period as she entered her sixth decade. Like Mamma Mia! with its energetic song-anddance numbers, It’s Complicated’s farcical comedy, featuring scenes of Jane getting stoned at a party on a date with Adam and vomiting into a bedside cabinet after a night of drunken sex with Jake, moved Streep further away again from the once prevalent vision of her as a doubtlessly gifted but somehow inherently ‘serious’ and overly sombre performer. Here, as Jane, she riotously embraces behaviour ‘inappropriate’ for her age, including (as with Erica) energetically satisfying (though largely implied and unseen) sex; ‘home sweet home’ muses Jake in post-coital bliss clutching at her crotch after they end up falling back into bed together in New  York. The import of this ‘inappropriate behaviour’ should not be underestimated simply because it is delivered via scenes of comic frivolity; from a feminist perspective the film can be said precisely to use this comedy to challenge conservative cultural expectations that older women should withdraw quietly into respectability, invisibility and indeed, as part of this, asexuality. Karen Hollinger has noted how Streep had made a somewhat unsuccessful foray into comedy before in the late 1980s/early 1990s, with roles in films such as She-Devil (1989) and the ‘disastrous[ly]’ received Death

203

KEY CONCEPTS

203

Becomes Her (1992), a shift that was met as a ‘definite downturn’ in her career (Hollinger, 2006: 78).17 She observes that Streep’s professional recalibration at that time was understood by some critics to be ‘a deliberate attempt to lighten her image and demonstrate her acting range’, but also that, significantly, this came about just as she turned forty in 1989, a particularly loaded milestone in the life of a woman actor (ibid.). This apparently abortive attempt twenty years earlier to position herself as a diverse performer able to turn her hand to comedy has been understood in part, then, as a strategic response to ‘her increasingly limited role choice as an older actress’, which produced counterproductive consequences (ibid.). In contrast, two decades on, Streep would be embraced as an actor possessing an admirable ability to not take herself too seriously and equally able to adroitly play comic roles, with much of the audience pleasure gleaned from her performance in It’s Complicated coming from the unexpectedly risqué and absurd scenarios Jane finds herself in. The roles of Donna and Jane evidently did nothing to dent Streep’s esteem if her subsequent 2011 Best Actress Oscar playing Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (directed, like Mamma Mia!, by Phyllida Lloyd) was anything to go by, a trajectory that once more seemingly points to the tentatively richer field being opened up to (some) women actors today by the recent greying of mainstream cinema. As I  have noted elsewhere, despite its box office achievements (and in similar ways to Mamma Mia!) the critical reception of It’s Complicated was often somewhat mixed at best (see Jermyn, 2011: 31–2), with many commentators taking a predictable pleasure in lamenting the predictability of its rom-com formulae and the privileged milieu of Meyers’s particular brand (again) of ‘lifestyle porn’ (for example, Sancton, 2009). Indeed, taking this overworked metaphor further into new and ever more imaginatively applied terrain, here Jane’s ‘expansive vegetable patch’ is described in one review as ‘nothing short of kitchen-garden pornography’ (Lennon, 2009). Nevertheless, even in some of the more unfavourable reviews, Streep’s performance was recurrently noted as a saving grace (as was Baldwin’s), and indeed the film won her yet another Golden Globe nomination. ‘Streep spins gold from straw’, Tim Robey’s Telegraph review declared in this vein, before grumbling about how ‘the plot groans and creaks’ (Robey, 2010). As noted, a frequent thread in critics’ professed agitation or glib

204

204

NANCY MEYERS

dismissals of the film was their sense that this was a film that was overwhelmingly meant for, and would be most enjoyed by, ‘women of a certain age on girls’ nights out’, as Todd McCarthy put it in Variety (McCarthy, 2009:  29). But again, as with Mamma Mia!, at the heart of this perceived appeal to the older female audience lay the rare image of a multidimensional, animated, but meditative, ageing woman protagonist and Streep’s engaging performance of her. Mirroring the women audiences imagined above by McCarthy and Ebert (2009), It’s Complicated contains scenes of Jane’s joyful gatherings with her circle of girlfriends, and this spectre of ageing women coming together and reaping great pleasure from company devoid of men is an entity that clearly holds much feminist potential, and troubles patriarchal culture (‘annoying girl-talk sessions’, as David Germain’s infantilizing LA Times summary put it (2009)).18 Manohla Dargis was another to suggest that Meyers’s romances are ‘pitched at a niche demographic, by which I  mean women over 40’ (2009). But despite being perturbed by the film’s problematic premise that the male characters prompt Jane’s laterlife revival, Dargis goes on to trace how Streep ‘takes this character and makes you love her’. Streep, she observes: [looks] sensational, but she and her crinkles also look close enough to her real age (60) to reassure you that she hasn’t resorted to the knife. That may sound grotesque and petty. But in an industry in which actresses whittle themselves down to nothing so they can have a little screen space only to fade away once they hit a certain age, there’s nothing trivial about a movie that insists a middle-aged woman with actual breasts and hips and wrinkles can be beautiful and desirable while also fully desiring. (Dargis, 2009) Here Dargis underlines the powerful politics at stake in the film and its casting of Streep, in a movie that on superficial consideration may seem, as is presumed of romantic comedy per se, to be capable only of offering amusing diversion. Instead, while Streep may be lovingly lit, the film also tackles the gendered politics of ageing, desire and sex head-on. Moments such as those where Jane refuses to let Jake see her undressed standing up, reminding him that the last time he saw her that way she was in her 40s and that ‘things look different lying down’, or Jake’s visit to the fertility clinic which

205

KEY CONCEPTS

205

reveals the prevalence of older men struggling to make babies with much younger women, are captured with wry humour which still speak volumes about the absurdity and inequity of how men and women experience ageing differently in our culture. Furthermore, the film also seems to give a conscious (and approving) nod to Streep’s much discussed refusal (like Keaton) to have cosmetic surgery, when Jane runs from a horrifying consultation with a plastic surgeon after learning what it will take to ‘fix’ her droopy eyelid (namely, a headache lasting three to six months). It is refreshing indeed to see a critic of Dargis’s standing note that while Meyers’s romcoms may be ‘fairy tales’, in line with the operation of generic verisimilitude pointed to above, this does not mean they are therefore ‘trivial’ (ibid.).

Invisible ageing There is, however, an alternative critical position on all this, which suggests that by having the older protagonists of Hollywood’s new gray cinema seemingly take on the romantic and sexual narrative preoccupations of Hollywood’s younger protagonists in their drive to reach fulfilment by finding ‘the one’, such films miss the opportunity to more fully explore the different experiences of the later life stages. According to this critique, they thereby come to inadvertently risk augmenting the very problem they appear to be addressing, by seemingly venerating ‘youth’ and representing what have been typically perceived to be youthful pursuits as enduring and cross-generational goals that must be continually aspired to. In this vein, writing on The Guardian’s film blog site, David Cox called on cinema to ‘explore the reality of [older people’s] lives’ and wrote of It’s Complicated that ‘[the] film asks us to believe that maturity is much the same as youth . . . yet attempting to sprinkle romcom stardust on the predicament of older people does them few favours. It tells them that only the preoccupations of the young have value. Unless they try to ape them, their lives will be worthless’ (Cox, 2010). In contrast, Philip French’s review of It’s Complicated, like Dargis’s, dared to entertain the notion that the film could be both ‘a piece of wish-fulfilment’ and something with loftier gravitas, by invoking a high-art association and arguing that it does look at relationships through the lens of an older perspective. In his words,

206

206

NANCY MEYERS

‘[its] central thrust is similar to Ingmar Bergman’s deadly serious Scenes from a Marriage: wedlock can be the death of romance; love can be better the second time round (even with the same partner); the greatest challenge to a relationship is making that transition from midlife crisis to sensible middle age’ (French, 2010). Indeed, in keeping with the sombre note French strikes here, in many ways the ending to It’s Complicated is a quietly modest and contemplative finale, even while an expectant and hopeful one. Having discovered her affair with Jake, Adam rejects Jane and withdraws from working any further on the remodelling of her home, before evidently having a change of heart and turning up in the rain for a project meeting the day construction is to commence. The pregnant possibility that this relationship could still work out for the couple is thus left there for audiences to imagine, but it will necessitate rebuilding some considerable lost trust, and thus is (purposefully) not heralded by grand gestures or declarations of love; there is no last-minute race across town towards reconciliation or heartfelt speechmaking here. Indeed for Wiggers, Meyers’s films recurrently evade simplistic representations of love as surmounting all without hesitation; ‘what is unique about Meyers’s form of romantic comedy is that her characters don’t simply meet, fall in love and live happily ever after. They always have responsibilities, commitments, insecurities and logistical roadblocks that won’t simply evaporate with a kiss’, he writes (2010: 72). Wiggers is rather overstating the case here to suggest this motif is ‘unique’ to Meyers. But his point nevertheless chimes usefully with what I have argued elsewhere about romcom as a whole, namely, that acknowledgement of ‘the genre’s (widely underestimated) capacity for a messy take on love’ (Jermyn and McCabe, 2013: 614), in which conflict, anxiety and confusion are as central as ‘the meet-cute’, is recurrently lost to one-dimensional accounts of it as only simplistic, straightforward and conservative. As with What Women Want, then, and while being mindful again of the subjectivity of such readings, I find an ending here that lends itself to a certain ambivalence about ‘the final couple’. This is also in part because of the oddly reserved performance style adopted by Steve Martin which, with the exception of the dope-smoking scene, is notably restrained for an actor still most admired for his exuberant comic roles, here appearing in a comedy as an often somewhat sombre figure. Perhaps this might bolster an

207

KEY CONCEPTS

207

interpretation of the film as being one which is about something else besides ‘just’ laughs. At any rate, the sensitive and thoughtful, but also nervously cautious and often insipid, Adam seems an unlikely match at times for the vibrant Jane, a point underlined by the fact of her failing to recall at her patisserie that she had actually met him before, and then forgetting to attend her subsequent meetings with him. Little wonder Jane still had ‘unfinished business’ with Jake, since by contrast the two of them play off one another with the kind of tantalizing spark that has long signalled the ‘rightness’ of the fated screwball and romcom couple. Still, Michelle Schreiber’s observation that Adam is ‘deemed the more appropriate love interest’ in part because ‘he is the character associated with providing Jane with what she most wants: the long awaited addition to her house’ is a persuasive one (2014: 149). But her suggestion that ‘the characterization and casting of Steve Martin as affable and heartbroken Adam versus Alec Baldwin as cocky and smarmy Jake almost predetermines the film’s “happy” ending’ (2014: 155) seems to sidestep the case for Baldwin’s enormously engaging performance and Jake’s beguiling charm. In doing so, for the purposes of this discussion, Schreiber’s interpretation works again to illustrate the polysemy the film’s love triangle actually lends itself to, since her response sits so very differently alongside my own. For Schreiber, the ending seems a disappointment, as It’s Complicated bows out with a ‘subdued conclusion that only promises rather than delivers a happy ending’ (2014: 149). Thus she situates this rather muted endnote as something of a failure or shortcoming in the film, not exploring whether the low-key and in some respects uncertain air to the denouement could be, first, quite intentional on Meyers’s part; indeed, Meyers herself has said of the film that it is averted from ‘becoming too saccharine’ because ‘[everything] doesn’t tie up at the end’ (Meyers, 2010). Furthermore, she has indicated that her ‘resolutions’ are subject to enormous deliberation, observing in the director’s commentary to Something’s Gotta Give that ‘the last scene in a romantic comedy is the hardest scene to write’ (my emphasis). Second, it is entirely possible that such an ending might be enjoyed or welcomed by audiences who don’t necessarily want or need their conclusions sunnily and neatly sealed and delivered to them. This is perhaps particularly true of the films’ older audiences who may, to borrow Zoe’s turn of phrase in Something’s Gotta Give, have ‘been around

208

208

NANCY MEYERS

the block a few times’ themselves, and be quite content to find that Meyers doesn’t end by picturing the final couple embracing delightedly against the sunset, with the conflicts, sentiments and experiences of the preceding two hours thereby symbolically, if only momentarily, buried. (The ‘babyboomer’ audience will have been there first time round for The Graduate (1967) after all, with its lingering ambiguity as to the future, and muted final frames of the couple). As we saw in Chapter 2, the variety and complexity of ‘happy endings’ and the final couple have been under-theorized, misrepresented and their dominance overstated in most critical and popular accounts of mainstream Hollywood and romantic comedy (MacDowell, 2013; Deleyto, 2009). Rather than seeing Meyers as a ‘bad’ director of happy endings, then, perhaps we should see her as a very good director of ambivalent or ‘openly tentatively romantic’ (MacDowell, 2013: 162) endings. While critiquing It’s Complicated and its ilk for their focus on ‘the preoccupations of the young’, Cox does not expand on what the preoccupations of older people in comparison might be, if not romantic ones, and how these might then work within the generic terrain of the romcom (Cox, 2010). Nevertheless, his article prompts one to ponder, what sort of issues might alternative representations of mature romantic relationships, more removed from Meyers’s essentially sanguine perspective, seek to contend with? What kinds of experiences go unrepresented, or unrepresentable, in the bittersweet but essentially hopeful later-life love stories (drawn from the babyboomers’ wealthy, white, heteronormative elite) she has crafted? In terms of what is here, it can be argued that the ‘feelgood’ motif uniting these films and arguably appealing to mature women audiences lies in their shared narratives of the ‘triumph of the older woman’ (Whelehan, 2013: 87), and in their bestowing the sense of a future on their ageing female protagonists. Thus these are stories that lie in stark contrast to what Imelda Whelehan has identified as more familiar ‘narratives of decline’ (2013: 83). And so too might one posit that ‘this triumph of the older woman’ is the cultural conquest that Meryl Streep herself has come to embody. At a chronological age when received wisdom would have it that Streep, as an older woman star, should be featuring in ever rarer roles, and fading from public consciousness because of limited access to only the most constrained repertoire of characters, she has instead undergone a renaissance. As the female face of Hollywood’s

209

KEY CONCEPTS

209

gentle repositioning into an industry tentatively courting the gray dollar (albeit among other markets), Streep’s metamorphosis sells the baby-boomer ideal that life can indeed remain rich, rewarding and surprising after middle age; that there might be adventures and experiences not yet had, not yet imagined, still to come. The call to on-going personal ‘reinvention’ has become one of the mainstays of neoliberal discourse, and as such it holds particularly problematic ramifications for women who bear the brunt of ageist scrutiny. But at the same time a drive to continually reimagine herself has long informed Streep’s choice of dramatic characters, as a star who in her sixth decade remains, in French’s words, ‘as indefatigable as she is versatile’ (French, 2010). Asked by Vanity Fair in 2009 to explain why Streep was ‘having such a moment right now’, Meyers replied: With so many actors, it’s the familiar that you look forward to, and with her it’s the originality that you look forward to . . . I think the Meryl experience is that she’s gonna take you somewhere. And it’s going to be something new, and it isn’t what you saw her do last year. (ibid.) And it is precisely in the life-affirming appeal of this aptitude for vitality in ageing, for reinvention rather than a slow-fade-to-gray, that Streep’s success as ‘the (Un-Botoxed) face of a Hollywood revolution’ lies (Bennetts, 2010). Interestingly, Meyers has said, ‘I don’t want to be known as the one who makes movies for older people. I’m just making movies about relationships’ (Meyers, 2010; see also Lennon, 2009). Indeed, one might argue that the true sublimation of these films into the mainstream will have occurred at the point at which they are understood just as ‘romantic comedies’ without the need for any age-focussed sub-generic qualifiers. But despite some apparent momentum in the industry towards embracing them, the ‘gerontocom’ is still enough of a novelty in the wider film marketplace and ageism still prevalent enough across all of culture for this point to be a way off. As they take their seats, audiences for the gerontocom will invariably find that the remedy for these older women’s yearning to find satisfaction and fulfilment in later life lies, just as it does for their romcom daughters and younger women everywhere, with finding the right man; that he will transpire to be the icing on the cake of their otherwise fulfilling but still unfinished lives. In this vein, Diane Negra has examined how the

210

210

NANCY MEYERS

figure of the single woman has continued to be pathologized with newly invigorated energy in postfeminist culture. Cast as ‘abject’, as having ‘[drifted] off course’ and ‘invariably coded as desperate’, she remains overwhelmingly an object of pity in our shared imagination (Negra, 2009:  61). Meyers’s older romantic heroines are not ‘desperate’. Indeed, she has challenged any conception of them being so, saying, ‘The women in my movies are not seeking romance. It happens when they are not looking for it’ (Larocca, 2015: 36). And yet they are incomplete, and their narratives ones which seek to salve this, rather than challenge our definitions of an ‘incomplete’ life. There is undoubtedly much that is refreshing in these representations of older women, allowed the right to active sexuality, rejuvenated or reinvigorated at a time when wider culture is telling them they have reached their best-before date. Equally, there is something unavoidably conservative in how the enriching men they serendipitously meet, their new and unexpected partners, are represented as forming the missing piece in the jigsaw of their lives. But perhaps rather than only dismissing the films on the basis of this as being misjudged endeavours or lost opportunities, we might do well to remember what the other pieces of that jigsaw look like nevertheless – older women, working, laughing, learning, weeping, caring, teaching, speaking and being, still commanding the big screen in a fashion that no other contemporary genre allows them to do with any moment.

Notes 1 Indeed, as Betty Kaklamanidou notes, despite starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd and being directed by Amy Heckerling, I Could Never Be Your Woman was released straight to DVD in the United States, along with the similarly themed ‘star-driven cougar film’ (2013: 86) The Rebound (2009, starring Catherine ZetaJones and Justin Bartha). For Kaklamanidou, it is telling that in both instances the films push cultural boundaries surrounding the cougar-romance, moving beyond representing it as merely a phase or intriguing experiment of some kind, by formulating endings in which the younger man/older woman opt to stay together and make a go of the relationship. That these ‘much more progressive and interesting narratives’ did not make it to general release underlines the extent to which cultural conservatism is still at work here. Even while at some

21

KEY CONCEPTS

211

level these ‘mature romcoms’ may seem to signal that a more liberal attitude to ageing, gender and romance is tentatively underway, still ‘interesting films [get] made and do not have a chance to be seen and consequently participate in a global cultural dialogue’ (Kaklamandiou, 2013: 86–7). 2 Meyers’s Instagram account can be found at @nmeyers, where she posted the Something’s Gotta Give themed bachelorette party photo on 26 April 2015. 3 In keeping with the various research on this theme noted in the previous chapter, in a 2015 Variety article, ‘The Curious Case of the Missing Women in Film Criticism’, 78 per cent of the top critics appearing on Rotten Tomatoes in both 2013 and 2015 were male (Adams, 2015). Posing a challenge to the leading UK film criticism periodical Sight and Sound in this respect, in December 2014, seventyfive feminist filmmakers, academics, critics, curators, programmers and editors, myself among them, were signatories to a letter to the editor entreating the magazine to do more to challenge the disproportionate dominance of male writers in the industry (see Mayer and Ostrowska (2014). 4 In another context, drawn from literary fiction, I am reminded here of the striking moment in Paul Magrs’s novel Never The Bride, in which Effie, a ‘woman of a certain age’, explains her attraction to her sinister new ‘fancy man’ in ways which point to the possibility of a non-chronologically based concept/experience of time and ageing. She explains, ‘He can see time itself within me, through me and behind me. He sees all the Effies I have been . . . All those much more youthful and vital versions of me, stretching out behind me. And that’s what he loves. All of me, going back into the past’ (2006: 254). I am grateful to Stacey Abbott for introducing me to this novel. 5 Consider, for example, the preponderance of films exhibiting longing for a lost first or unfulfilled love (13 Going on 30 (2004)), perhaps too for the hometown of one’s youth (Sweet Home Alabama (2002)), or even for a past historical period (Kate and Leopold (2001)). 6 Interestingly, Keaton’s Father of the Bride roles significantly closed down the characteristically energetic comic performance style she has been known for, likely because she needed to act as a foil to Steve Martin, and alongside his tightly wound performance such a relationship duo might have been perceived as overbearing. 7 Giving credence to this notion that Meyers might be doing something self-consciously critical of the youth-obsessed male gaze here, Marin’s strip is rather echoed later by the ‘strip’ Erica performs when she

21

212

NANCY MEYERS

undresses en route to the bathroom from her bedroom (see also Wearing, 2007: 302). Harry accidentally comes across her and proceeds to shriek with horror and shock at the sight of a naked woman of Keaton’s age, later telling Julian he has never seen a woman that old undressed before. 8 This scene seems to be owed a debt by Amanda’s (Cameron Diaz’s) lengthy outburst to her bemused assistants in The Holiday where she points out the gendered inequity of the fact that, according to a report she just read, women with stress end up looking haggard because stress changes their DNA, and thus, because ‘this doesn’t happen to men’, her ex-boyfriend will be able to keep dating younger women without censure while she gets left behind. 9 For more information on the Bechdel Test, see http://bechdeltest.com/. 10 I am grateful to Karen Randell for discussing ideas about ageing and perceptions of time with me. 11 Elsewhere, I have examined the difficulty of ‘looking for the language of ageing’ and the ‘lack of a sufficient lexicon’ in the field (2015: 141). In some contexts, then, we must be cautious of the word ‘rejuvenate’ where it is used to celebrate older women’s seeming later-life resurgence, since it originates from re, meaning ‘again’ + the Latin iuvenis ‘young’, and thus can work to fetishize youth, that is, to conflate ‘aliveness’ with the young (see Jermyn, 2015: 141–3). 12 In November 2011, a news story about Keaton emerged which impacts further on how one reads her slender body, since the press coverage surrounding the publication of her memoir Then Again (2011) disclosed that in her book she admitted to suffering from bulimia in the 1970s. This body is thus retrospectively revealed to have experienced a great deal of a certain kind of punishing ‘graft and diligence’ in order to stay slim. 13 An important exception to this comes in the early scenes, when Harry is looking around him admiringly at the Hamptons location of Marin’s mother’s home and observes to her, ‘So honey, you’re rich’. Marin’s reply makes it clear her mother bought this house herself with the proceeds of a hit play. This is then followed by Marin offering to give Harry a tour, as she talks him through the living area like a realtor/estate agent, grandly recognizing how impressive the property is. These moments in which a character – and thus the audience – stops to acknowledge and appreciate the interiors of Meyers’s homes importantly happen across Meyers’s work, as discussed in the previous chapter.

213

KEY CONCEPTS

213

14 For a comprehensive and compelling account of these issues, with particular regard to young people working in the creative industries in the United Kingdom, which asks, ‘Is passionate work a neoliberal delusion?’, see McRobbie, 2015. 15 Here, Meyers has interestingly conceded that she misjudged the careful crafting of her interiors. Reviewers repeatedly expressed confusion as to why anyone would want or need to remodel a home as splendid as Jane’s. Meyers thus admits, ‘Well, this is where I failed. She wants the kitchen from Something’s Gotta Give, that’s what I always thought. She liked that movie and wanted that kitchen. And so I worked really hard I thought on giving her a crappy kitchen. But I guess I didn’t . . . I did fail. Because people said, why in the world did she need another kitchen?’ (Bayou, 2013). Indeed, Meyers says she subsequently added water damage to it on Streep’s suggestion to make it seem less salubrious (ibid.). 16 Figures at: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/ ?page=intl&country=UK&id=itscomplicated.htm [accessed 20 August 2013]. 17 It should be noted, nevertheless, that Death Becomes Her was successful at the box office, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Streep. 18 Similar patterns of distaste and discomfort at scenes of women-only socialising can be found in the critical reception of Mamma Mia!

214

215

Conclusion

With the possible exception of Private Benjamin, I do not think any of Meyers’ films can be called ‘feminist’ . . . To me, the pleasures these films provide are antagonistic to feminist politics. ‘Popular feminism’ is feminism without protest, politics replaced with pleasurable self-indulgence in the personal problems of the privileged few. (Glitre, 2011: 18, 28) The films that Meyers has written and directed articulate a powerful critique of the sexist habits of older white men. Several of her films feature this trademark theme, but Meyers’ message is never clearer than in Something’s Gotta Give . . . the message [is] clear and straightforward; it is progressive, convincing, and urgent . . . a powerful feminist statement. (Sims, 2014: 194–5) It would be difficult to find two more distinct and conflictual responses to Nancy Meyers than those we see above from Glitre (2011) and Sims (2014). And yet this book has underscored how readily either position might be accommodated by analysis of her films and their relationship with the prevalent cultural discourses of their times. While I  cannot deny being sometimes exasperated by elements of her work, my own reading of Meyers leans somewhat closer to Sims than to Glitre, it must be said. I find it difficult to conclude that Meyers’s films are so categorically not ‘feminist’. Rather, at the very least, I suspect that they are understood as feminist by/to her. As such, they underscore the subjectivity that can feature in applying the term ‘feminist’ and the contentious existence, arguably, of feminisms (plural), as has been brought into particular relief in recent years by a burgeoning awareness of the importance

216

216

NANCY MEYERS

of intersectionality. But in a sense, as outlined from the start of this book, the question of ‘proving’ whether Meyers is ‘a feminist filmmaker’ or not is doomed both to equivocation and to rather derailing other kinds of discussion – and recognition – that should be taking place around her. This is not to say that the unresolvable question of Meyers’s cinefeminist credentials is not thought-provoking, intriguing, or absorbing, especially to anyone interested in understanding or debating how feminism can become a slippery entity on-screen. Rather it is to say that Meyers stands as a rich case study for discussing the enduring position and treatment of women filmmakers very broadly in the industry, in criticism and in scholarship. Whatever one’s interpretations of Meyers’s films, the fact is that there are few women filmmakers in Hollywood who can begin to compare with her professional longevity or commercial success. Furthermore, as outlined throughout this book, a case can readily be made for her auteur status. Yet still she remains comparatively unknown to many audiences (including film academics). In addition, she makes films that consistently prove profitable and popular with audiences despite their sitting outside the prevailing wisdom regarding what kinds of projects merit studio investment, and which thus contrast starkly with the kinds of movies that dominate studio filmmaking in Hollywood. As Scott Mendelson astutely observed shortly after the release of The Intern, in an analysis worth citing at length here: As of yesterday, The Intern crossed the $60 million mark at the domestic box office. At a cost of $35 million, the Nancy Meyers movie has thus-far earned $60.852m in domestic earnings, which means it will not only end up vastly outgrossing Pan but has also surpassed Johnny Depp’s Black Mass, which sits at $60.739m and is earning just 20% of what The Intern has been earning over the last few weekdays. I bring this up because all three of them are courtesy of Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. And yet looking at those three recent releases, which of the three is the least likely film to have gotten made and released? . . . And in terms of which films are preemptively taken seriously as presumed box office hits and prestige awards-bait films, we are also more likely to see male-centric grim-and-gritty crime dramas like Black Mass than we are to see often casually dismissed so-called ‘chick flicks’ like The Intern. We as a critical society are quick to dismiss films

217

CONCLUSION

217

like The Intern as fluff or inconsequential because they revolve around female characters (and/or older men and women) doing things like balancing work and family as opposed to fighting for freedom or pulling off capers . . . The so-called ‘chick flick’ is going to be a lot more profitable than the bloated would-be blockbuster and the somewhat generic crime biopic. We ignore this relative success at our long term peril. (Mendelson, 2015b) Mendelson isn’t being a doomsayer when he points ominously to the ‘perilous’ prospect of ignoring the success of The Intern or other films like it. Meyers has herself, as already noted, spoken frankly about how difficult it was to get the film made despite her faultless CV with its plentiful evidence of her turning a profit as a director. In 2013, when we can now retrospectively surmise she was struggling to get The Intern greenlit and wondering if it might never see the light of day, she was interviewed by Diane Keaton for Elle magazine, with whom she had of course worked across four box office successes by this time between 1987 and 2003 (namely, Baby Boom, Father of the Bride, Father of the Bride Part II, Something’s Gotta Give). Keaton asks her, ‘Is it getting better for women in Hollywood?’, and Meyers hesitates non-committedly. Keaton interrupts, ‘A little? We’ve got the Bridesmaids, we’ve got Melissa McCarthy. I mean, that’s pretty exciting, right?’ And Meyers responds: But movies have changed, Diane. Let’s face it. The studios are looking for the biggest movies for the biggest audience. And it’s hard to think of half the population as a niche market, but that’s how the studios look at women. They want franchises. I think it would be very hard for our movies to get made today. (Keaton, 2013: 339) By the time The Intern was made and released in 2015, against the odds and on a vastly reduced budget to her preceding films, she was speaking even more concernedly. Meyers’s final insights to the audience gathered to hear her speak at BAFTA that year were sombre indeed. She tries to offer advice to the prospective writers in the audience and speaks too about her own daughter, a still emergent screenwriter at this time,1 and notes the difficulties that now face filmmakers interested in making films ‘about people’: ‘But you know what worries me about her and all of you is

218

218

NANCY MEYERS

that it is such a different time. Because the last 35 years you could make movies about people. This movie The Intern was very hard to get made and I have had successes . . . I worry about will she be able to get her work, will it happen for her because the movie business is not embracing the kind of work she wants to do’ (BATFA, 2015). Elsewhere, and linked to the decline of ‘people’-focused projects Meyers is describing, for some time there has been talk of the (perhaps exaggerated but still indicative) ‘death of the midbudget movie’. Writing for US business magazine Forbes in 2012, for example, Dorothy Pomerantz describes how ‘all of the major studios are now owned by huge media conglomerates that include merchandising, TV, publishing and, sometimes, theme parks. It makes business sense for the studios to focus as much energy and money as possible on the biggest films that will generate the most revenue down the line’ (2012). As a result, the search is always on now for the next billion-dollar franchise opportunity among the studios. Their interest lies primarily in films where a big investment will (potentially) bring an even bigger commensurate return, and smaller films are seen as less viable ‘unless their budgets are really small, under $20  million, as opposed to a mid-budget film in the $50 to $80 million range’ (ibid.). In such an increasingly homogenized marketplace, and in the lack of big merchandising, tie-in or sequel opportunities they afford, quietly observed, character-driven, dialogue-heavy films like The Intern are simply ‘much harder to justify’ (ibid.) and thinner on the ground  – the irony being that Meyers’s films are repeatedly denigrated by critics for being homogenous themselves. The contemporary contexts described here demonstrate how as a filmmaker who is perceived, first, as making films which appeal primarily to the upper female quadrant ‘niche’ (even if they do have a substantially bigger reach than this), and second, as a director who is not interested in making high-budget franchise movies but ‘personal’ movies she writes and produces herself, the very fact that Meyers is sustaining her career in the manner she is at all makes her one of the most notable directors of her generation (of any gender). To paraphrase Mendelson above, then, we ignore Meyers at our peril; if she stands to get ‘squeezed out’, despite the career she has had, what does this tell us about Hollywood, about criticism, about scholarship? For Melissa Silverstein, ‘Nancy Meyers is a special kind of filmmaker.

219

CONCLUSION

219

She’s really the only woman who does what she does . . . No matter what you think of her work, she is a trailblazer . . . She’s the prototype for white feminism: pioneering, admirable, yet limited in scope’ (2015). What is more, alongside this troubling and insistent whiteness in her work, ‘she can make an incredibly feminist statement and then just wipe it out in her next breath’ (ibid.). I  started this book with the observation that Nancy Meyers is a conundrum. And now I end with it too. But more importantly than solving ‘the Nancy Meyers problem’, what this book has tried to ensure is that we sustain a conversation now, in which we more rigorously and open-mindedly explore the actual ways in which this somehow contradictory, yet consistent; frustrating, yet rewarding; vexing, yet comforting filmmaker has come to be such an incomparable conundrum.

Note 1 Hallie Meyers-Shyer began work directing her first feature film, Home Again, in 2016. Also written by Meyers-Shyer and starring Reese Witherspoon, Nancy Meyers acted as a producer on the project.

20

21

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abbott, Stacey and Deborah Jermyn (2009) Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema, London: I. B. Tauris. Abramovitch, Ingrid (2012) ‘An Exclusive Q & A with Nancy Meyers’, Elle Décor, 2 July, available at: http://www.elledecor.com/celebritystyle/celebrity-homes/news/a5373/an-exclusive-qa-with-nancy-meyersa/ [accessed 7 September 2015]. Adams, Thelma (2015) ‘The Curious Case of the Missing Women in Film Criticism’, Variety, 29 December, available at: http://variety.com/2015/ film/spotlight/lack-of-women-film-criticism-1201667282/ [accessed 11 April 2016]. Alleyne, Richard (2008) ‘Romantic Comedies Make Us “Unrealistic about Romance”, Claim Scientists’, The Telegraph, 15 December, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/3776923/Romanticcomedies-make-us-unrealistic-about-relationships-claim-scientists.html [accessed 19 July 2016]. Alpert, Robert (2012) ‘Ernst Lubitsch and Nancy Meyers: A Study on Movie Love in the Classic and Post-Modernist Traditions’, March, Senses of Cinema, 62, available at: http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/ feature-articles/ernst-lubitsch-and-nancy-meyers-a-study-on-movielove-in-the-classic-and-post-modernist-traditions/ [accessed 15 January 2014]. Altman, Rick (1999) Film/Genre, London: British Film Institute. Anderson, Hannah and Matt Daniels (2016) ‘Film Dialogue, from 2,000 Screenplays, Broken Down by Gender and Age’, polygraph.com, available at: http://polygraph.cool/films/ [accessed 17 April 2016]. Anonymous (2000) Review of What Women Want, Time Out (London), n.d., available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/what-womenwant [accessed 12 September 2015]. Atkinson, Michael (2003) ‘As Bad As It Gets: What Women Want Panderer Helps the Aged’, The Village Voice, 9 December, available at: http://www.villagevoice.com/film/as-bad-as-it-gets-what-womenwant-panderer-helps-the-aged-6397797 [accessed 15 February 2016].

2

222

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Babb, Francesca (2010) ‘Nancy Meyers: The Rom-Com Queen’, The Independent, 9 January, available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/ arts-entertainment/films/features/nancy-meyers-the-romcom-queen1862430.html [accessed 14 April 2014]. BAFTA (2015) Screenwriters’ Lecture Series interview with Nancy Meyers, 28 September, transcript available at: http://www.bafta.org/ media-centre/transcripts/bafta-bfi-screenwriters-lecture-series-nancymeyers [accessed 10 September 2016] Barnes, Brooks and Michael Cieply (2011) ‘Graying Audience Returns to Movies’, New York Times, 25 February, available at: http:// www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/business/media/26moviegoers. html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 [accessed 2 August 2013]. Bastow, Clem (2015) ‘The Intern Has Been Panned by Film Critics. Why Am I Not Surprised?’, The Guardian, 1 October, available at: https:// www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/01/the-intern-has-been-pannedby-male-film-critics-why-am-i-not-surprised [accessed 5 October 2016]. Bayou, Bradley (2013) Interview with Nancy Meyers, available at: http:// bradleybayou.com/nancy-meyers-in-conversation-with-bradley-bayou3/ [accessed 14 June 2015]. Beard, Mary (2014) ‘The Public Voice of Women’, London Review of Books, 20 March, 36.6, 11–14. Benesch, Connie (1994) ‘They Love Trouble’, BOXOFFICE, April, 30–32. Bennetts, Leslie (2010) ‘Something about Meryl’, Vanity Fair, January, available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywoodfeatures/2010/01/ meryl-streep-201001 [accessed 9 May 2013]. Bergstrom, Janet (1979) ‘Rereading the Work of Claire Johnston’, Camera Obscura, 3–4, 21–31. Bernard, Jami (1995) ‘Bride Gives Birth to an Infantile Sequel. It’s a Stretch Even with Comic Genius Martin, and the Pregnancy Jokes Are Hard to Stomach’, New York Daily News, 8 December, available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/nydn-features/bride-birthinfantile-sequel-stretch-comic-genius-martin-pregnancy-jokes-hardstomach-article-1.694764 [accessed 2 February 1996]. Biancolli, Amy (2009) ‘Exes Hook Up in It’s Complicated ’, San Francisco Chronicle, 25 December, available at: http://www.sfgate.com/movies/ article/Review-Exes-hook-up-in-It-s-Complicated-3205958.php [accessed 14 April 2011] Blair, Iain (1995) ‘A Dynamic Duo’, Film and Video, December, 12.12, 60–64. Bond, Matthew (2010) Review of It’s Complicated, Mail on Sunday (London), 10 January, n.p. Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson (1988) The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, London and New York: Routledge.

23

BIBLIOGRAPHY

223

Bowdre, Karen (2009) ‘Romantic Comedies and the Raced Body’, in Stacey Abbott and Deborah Jermyn (eds), Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema, London: I. B. Tauris, 105–116. Bowler, Alexia (2013) ‘Towards a New Sexual Conservatism in Postfeminist Romantic Comedy’, in Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller (eds), Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 185–203. Bradshaw, Peter (2006) Review of The Holiday, The Guardian, 8 December, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2006/dec/ 08/camerondiaz.romance [accessed 8 August 2013]. Bradshaw, Peter (2010) Review of It’s Complicated, The Guardian, 7 January, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jan/07/ its-complicated-review [accessed 12 September 2015]. Bulankova, Zhanna (2015) ‘The Intern Movie Illustrations’, n.d., available at https://www.behance.net/gallery/35027885/The-Internmovie-illustrations [accessed 1 September 2016]. Butler, Alison (2002) Women’s Cinema: The Contested Screen, London: Wallflower Press. Carmon, Irin (2009a) ‘ “Fuck Them”: Times Critic on Hollywood, Women & Why Romantic Comedies Suck’, jezebel.com, 14 December, available at: http://jezebel.com/5426065/fuck-them-times-criticon-hollywood-women--why-romantic-comedies-suck [accessed 15 August 2016]. Carmon, Irin (2009b) ‘The Triumph of, and Trouble with, Nancy Meyers’, jezebel.com, 16 December, available at: http://jezebel.com/5428031/itscomplicated-the-triumph-of-and-trouble-with-nancy-meyers [accessed 12 March 2015]. Caughie, John (1981) Theories of Authorship: A Reader, London and New York: Routledge. Cavell, Stanley (1981) Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film (2016) ‘Thumbs Down 2016: Top Film Critics and Gender’, available at: http:// womenintvfilm.sdsu.edu/files/2016_Thumbs_Down_Report.pdf [accessed 5 July 2016]. Cherubin, Jan (1985) ‘Writing Couples Who Write about Couples’, L.A.Herald-Examiner, 30 April, B1, B4. Child, Ben (2015) ‘Maggie Gyllenhaal: At 37 I Was “Too Old” for Role Opposite 55 Year-Old Man’, The Guardian, 21 May, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/21/maggie-gyllenhaaltoo-old-hollywood [accessed 12 March 2015]. Chivers, Sally (2011) The Silvering Screen: Old Age and Disability in Cinema, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

24

224

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Clines, Peter (2009) ‘It’s Not All That Complicated’, Creative Screenwriting, November/December, 25–29. Cobb, Shelley (2015) Adaptation, Authorship, and Contemporary Women Filmmakers, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Cochrane, Kira (2008) ‘The Mother of All Musicals’, The Guardian, 27 November, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/nov/ 27/1 [accessed 1 April 2016]. Collins, Nancy (2007) ‘Set Design: Something’s Gotta Give’, Architectural Digest, 30 June, available at: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/ somethings-gotta-give-film-sets-article [accessed 12 April 2016]. Corrigan, Timothy (1991) A Cinema without Walls: Movies and Culture after Vietnam, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Cox, David (2010) ‘It’s Complicated When Hollywood Tries to Celebrate Greying Passion’, The Guardian, 11 January, available at: http://www. theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2010/jan/11/its-complicated-merylstreep-alec-baldwin [accessed 24 May 2013]. Cox, David (2012) ‘How Older Viewers Are Rescuing Cinema’, The Guardian, 8 March, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/ 2012/mar/08/older-viewers-rescuing-cinema [accessed 17 March 2016]. Dargis, Manohla (2006) ‘Changing Addresses, Altering Love Lives’, New York Times, 8 December, 12. Dargis, Manohla (2009) ‘A September–September Romance’, New York Times, 24 December, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/ 25/movies/25complicated.html [accessed 22 April 2011] Dargis, Manohla (2015) ‘Review: In The Intern, She’s the Boss, but He’s the Star’, New York Times, 24 September, available at: http://www. nytimes.com/2015/09/25/movies/review-the-intern-proves-experiencedoesnt-have-to-start-at-the-top.html [accessed 12 November 2015]. Dawes, Amy (2007) ‘Business Affairs’, DGA Quarterly, Summer, 54–57. Dawes, Amy (2009) ‘Head of the Table’, DGA Quarterly, Spring, available at: http://www.dga.org/Craft/DGAQ/All-Articles/ 0901-Spring-2009/Interview-Nancy-Meyers.aspx [accessed 1 September 2015]. Deleyto, Celestino (2009) The Secret Life of Romantic Comedy, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Di Orio, Carl (2000) ‘Women Bags Record $34mil; “Dude” Tops Disney’s “Groove” ’, Variety, 18 December, 1. Díaz, Vanessa (2015) ‘ “Brad & Angelina: And Now . . . Brangelina!”: A Sociocultural Analysis of Blended Celebrity Couple Names’, in Shelley Cobb and Neil Ewen (eds), First Comes Love: Power Couples, Celebrity Kinship and Cultural Politics, New York and London: Bloomsbury, 275–94. Dyer, Richard (1979) Stars, London: BFI.

25

BIBLIOGRAPHY

225

Ebert, Roger (1980) Review of Private Benjamin, Chicago Sun-Times, 1 January, available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/privatebenjamin-1980. [accessed 14 July 2016] Ebert, Roger (2003) Review of Something’s Gotta Give, Chicago Sun Times, 12 December, available at: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/ pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20031212/REVIEWS/312120302/1023 [accessed 13 April 2010]. Ebert, Roger (2009) Review of It’s Complicated, rogerebert.com, 23 December, available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/itscomplicated-2009 [accessed 29 March 2016]. Edelstein, David (2009) Review of It’s Complicated, New York, 21 December, available at: http://nymag.com/listings/movie/itscomplicated/ [accessed 30 March 2016]. Ellis, John (1992) Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video, London and New York: Routledge. Erbland, Kate (2014) ‘Love Isn’t Dead: How Indie Films Became the Future of Romcom’, Vanity Fair, 28 August, available at: http://www. vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/08/indie-movie-rom-coms [accessed 4 June 2015]. Erbland, Kate (2015) ‘Why Making Movies Is Still Tough for MillionDollar Filmmaker Nancy Meyers’, Indiewire, 24 September, available at: http://www.indiewire.com/2015/09/why-making-movies-is-stilltough-for-million-dollar-filmmaker-nancy-meyers-57531/ [accessed 29 September 2015]. ESRC (2014) Festival of Social Sciences Exhibition, ‘How to Get to 100 – and Enjoy It’, OXO Tower, London, October–November. Evans, Peter William and Celestino Deleyto (1998) Terms of Endearment: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1980s and 1990s, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Faludi, Susan (1991) Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women, London: Chatto & Windus. Farber, Stephen (2015) Review of The Intern, The Hollywood Reporter, 21 September, available at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/ intern-film-review-824636 [accessed 15 August 2016]. Ferrier, Morwenna and John Briffa (2010) ‘What’s in Your Basket, Nancy Meyers?’, The Guardian, 16 May, available at: http://www. theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/may/16/nancy-meyers-favouritefoods [accessed 22 May 2015]. Ferriss, Suzanne and Mallory Young (2007) Chick Flicks: Contemporary Women at the Movies, London and New York: Routledge. Finger, Bobby (2015) ‘Which Nancy Meyers Kitchen Are You?’, Jezebel, 25 September, available at: http://jezebel.com/which-nancy-meyerskitchen-are-you-1733023749 [accessed 29 September 2015].

26

226

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Finger, Bobby (2016) ‘It’s Actually Not That Complicated: On Nancy Meyers’ Instagram’, New York Times, 4 April, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/04/magazine/ its-actually-not-that-complicated-on-nancy-meyerssinstagram.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fsocialcapital&action=click&contentCollection=magazine®ion= stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement= 9&pgtype=collection [accessed 5 July 2016]. Fink, Mitchell (1998) ‘Chicago Script Out of Larry’s Hands’, New York Daily News, 14 September, available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/ archives/gossip/chicago-script-larry-hands-article-1.816698 [accessed 2 February 2016]. Foundas, Scott (2003) Review of Something’s Gotta Give, Variety, 5 December, available at: http://variety.com/2003/film/awards/somethings-gotta-give-2-1200537620/ [accessed 1 September 2015]. Foundas, Scott (2006) ‘Trading Spaces’ (review of The Holiday), LA Weekly, 8 December, 96, 98. Foundas, Scott (2009) Review of It’s Complicated, Village Voice, 22 December, available at: http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-12-22/film/ alec-baldwin-and-meryl-streep-s-it-s-complicated/full/ [accessed 29 August 2013]. Fox, Ken (2006) Review of The Holiday, TV Guide, n.d., available at: http://www.tvguide.com/movies/the-holiday/review/284458/ [accessed 1 September 2015]. Freeman, Hadley (2015) ‘I Don’t See a Lot of Movies about Complicated Women . . . I Think It’s Gotten Worse’, The Guardian, 1 October, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/01/nancymeyers-the-intern-interview-women-hollywood [accessed 22 July 2016]. French, Philip (2010) Review of It’s Complicated, The Observer, 10 January, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/jan/10/ its-complicated-meryl-streep [accessed 16 May 2013]. Gaines, Jane (1992) ‘Dorothy Arzner’s Trousers’, Jump Cut, 37, July, 88–98, available at: http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/ JC37folder/ArznersTrousers.html [accessed 15 February 2016]. Gaines, Jane (2002) ‘Of Cabbages and Authors’, in Jennifer M. Bean and Diane Negra (eds), A Feminist Reader in Early Cinema, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 88–118. Galbraith, Jane (1988) ‘Baby Boom Finds Its Way to NBC-TV’, Variety, 14 January, 1, 64. Galloway, Stephen (2007) ‘Direct Approach’, The Hollywood Reporter, 3 January, available at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/directapproach-127132 [accessed 10 March 2016].

27

BIBLIOGRAPHY

227

Gardner, Chris (2015) ‘Nancy Meyers: When Cheesecake Paid the Bills’, The Hollywood Reporter, 4 September, available at: http://www. hollywoodreporter.com/rambling-reporter/nancy-meyers-cheesecakepaid-bills-819572 [accessed 15 February 2015]. Garrett, Roberta (2007) Postmodern Chick Flicks: The Return of the Woman’s Film, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Gates, Anita (2004) ‘Movies: Critics Choice’, New York Times, 10 October, Section 13, 6. Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media (2014) ‘Press Release: Global Film Industry Perpetuates Discrimination against Women’, available at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2014/9/geena-davisstudy-press-release [accessed 8 March 2016]. Geraghty, Christine (2000) ‘Re-examining Stardom: Questions of Texts Bodies and Performance’, in Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams (eds), Reinventing Film Studies, London: Arnold, 183–201. Germain, David (2009), Review of It’s Complicated, Los Angeles Times, 23 December, available at: http://www.latimes.com/topic/zap-reviewits-complicated-sns-ap,0,6159650.story [accessed 28 May 2013]. Gill, Rosalind (2007) ‘Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 10.2, 147–66. Gledhill, Christine (2012) (ed.) Gender Meets Genre in Postwar Cinemas, Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Gliatto, Tom (2004) ‘Aging Gratefully’, People, 9 February, 61.5, available at: http://www.people.com/ people/archive/article/0„20149276,00.html [accessed 9 September 2011]. Glitre, Katharina (2006) Hollywood Romantic Comedy: States of the Union, 1934–65, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Glitre, Katharina (2011) ‘Nancy Meyers and “Popular Feminism”’, in Melanie Walters (ed.), Women on Screen: Feminism and Femininity in Visual Culture, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 17–30. Goodridge, Mike (2000) Review of What Women Want, Screen International, 18 December, available at: http://www.screendaily.com/ what-women-want/404547.article [accessed 8 August 2013]. Goodridge, Mike (2006) Review of The Holiday, Screen International, 1 December, available at: http://www.screendaily.com/the-holiday/ 4029804.article [Accessed 8 August 2013]. Grant, Barry Keith (2007) Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology, London and New York: Wallflower Press. Grant, Barry Keith (2008) Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. Gravagne, Pamela H. (2013) The Becoming of Age: Cinematic Visions of Mind, Body and Identity in Later Life, Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

28

228

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Griffin, Nancy (2003) ‘Diane Keaton Meets Both Her Matches’, New York Times, 14 December, available at: http://www.nytimes. com/2003/12/14/movies/film-diane-keaton-meets-both-her-matches. html?pagewanted=all [accessed 8 August 2013]. Grindon, Leger (2011) The Hollywood Romantic Comedy, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. Groen, Rick (2009) ‘Crowd-Pleasing Wish Fulfilment – That’s Easy’, The Globe and Mail, 23 December, available at: http://www.theglobeandmail. com/arts/its-complicated/article1346451/ [accessed 29 June 2014]. Gustafson, Judith (1980/81) Review of Private Benjamin, Cineaste, Winter, 11.1, 32–33. Hamad, Hannah (2014) Postfeminism and Paternity in Contemporary U.S. Film: Framing Fatherhood, Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Harrod, Mary (2015) From France with Love: Gender and Identity in French Romantic Comedy, London: I. B. Tauris. Henderson, Eric (2015) Review of The Intern, Slant, 24 September, available at: http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/the-intern [accessed 3 September 2016]. Henderson, Maureen J. (2015) ‘Robert De Niro Makes the Case for Reverse Mentoring in The Intern, 24 September, available at: http:// www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2015/09/24/robert-de-niromakes-the-case-for-reverse-mentorship-in-the-intern/#46c0eb5b226b [accessed 1 September 2016]. Hobbs, Alex (2013) ‘Romancing the Crone: Hollywood’s Recent Mature Love Stories’, Journal of American Culture, 36.1, 42–51. Hoffman, Jordan (2015) ‘The Intern Review – Thankless Work for Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway’, The Guardian, 23 September, available at: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/23/the-intern-reviewrobert-de-niro-anne-hathaway [accessed 1 September 2016]. Hollinger, Karen (2006) The Actress: Hollywood Acting and the Female Star, London: Routledge. Hollinger, Karen (2012) Feminist Film Studies, London and New York: Routledge. Hornaday, Ann (2006) ‘Put a Stocking in It’, The Washington Post, 8 December, available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/ article/2006/12/07/AR2006120701945.html [accessed 8 June 2013]. Howe, Desson (2000) ‘Mel Is from Mars, Helen’s from Venus’, Washington Post, 15 December, available at: http://www. washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/entertainment/movies/reviews/ whatwomenwanthowe.htm [accessed 6 August 2013]. Hubbard, Daniel (2015) Slate, 26 September, ‘Nancy Meyers Movies, Now Annotated with Estimated Real-Estate Prices’, available at: http:// www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/09/26/nancy_meyers_movies_ annotated_real_estate_costs_in_the_intern_the_holiday.html [accessed 29 September 2015].

29

BIBLIOGRAPHY

229

Ide, Wendy (2004) Review of Something’s Gotta Give, 5 February, The Times, Features: Screen, 4. Jacey, Helen and Batty, Craig (2014) Writing and Selling Romantic Comedy Screenplays, Harpenden: Oldcastle Books Group. Jacobs, Matthew (2015) ‘With The Intern, Nancy Meyers and Robert De Niro Showcase a Fresh Kind of Hollywood Romance’, The Huffington Post, 22 September, available at: http://www. huffingtonpost.com/entry/nancy-meyers-robert-de-niro-the-intern_us_ 56006543e4b08820d919b9e0 [accessed 2 September 2016]. Jagannathan, Meera (2016) ‘Quentin Tarantino Says The Intern Was One of His Favorite Films of 2015: “I Think Robert De Niro Gave One of His Best Performances”’, New York Daily News, 22 January, available at: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/ tarantino-favorite-films-2015-intern-article-1.2506325 [accessed 24 August 2016]. James, Caryn (1989) ‘Are Feminist Heroines an Endangered Species?’, New York Times, 16 July, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/ 07/16/movies/film-view-are-feminist-heroines-an-endangered-species. html?pagewanted=all [accessed 14 August 2014]. Jeffers McDonald, Tamar (2007) Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre, London and New York: Wallflower Press. Jeffers McDonald, Tamar (2009) ‘Homme-com: Engendering Change in Contemporary Romantic Comedy’, in Stacey Abbott and Deborah Jermyn (eds), Falling in Love Again: Romantic Comedy in Contemporary Cinema, London: I. B. Tauris, 146–59. Jermyn, Deborah (2003) ‘Cherchez la Femme: The Weight of Water and the Search for Bigelow in a Bigelow Film’, in Deborah Jermyn and Sean Redmond (eds), The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor, London: Wallflower Press, 125–43. Jermyn, Deborah (2009) Sex and the City, Detroit: Wayne State University Press. Jermyn, Deborah (2011) ‘Unlikely Heroines? “Women of a Certain Age” and Romantic Comedy’, CineAction, 85, 26–33. Jermyn, Deborah (2012) ‘ “Glorious, Glamorous and That Old Standby, Amorous”: The Late Blossoming of Diane Keaton’s Romantic-Comedy Career’, Celebrity Studies, 3.1, 37–52. Jermyn, Deborah (2014) ‘The (un-Botoxed) Face of a Hollywood Revolution: Meryl Streep and the “Graying” of Mainstream Cinema’, in Joel Gwynne and Imelda Whelehan (eds), Harleys and Hormones: Ageing Popular Culture and Contemporary Feminism, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 108–23. Jermyn, Deborah (2015) ‘ “Don’t Wear Beige – It Might Kill You”: The Politics of Ageing and Visibility in Fabulous Fashionistas’, in Deborah Jermyn and Su Holmes (eds), Women, Celebrity & Cultures of Ageing: Freeze Frame, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 127–45.

230

230

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Jermyn, Deborah (forthcoming) ‘The Contemptible Realm of the Romcom Queen: Nancy Meyers, Cultural Value and Romantic Comedy’, in Mary Harrod and Kata Paszkiewicz (eds), Women’s Authorship and Genre in Film and Television, London and New York: Routledge. Jermyn, Deborah and Janet McCabe (2013) ‘Sea of Love: Place, Desire and the Beaches of Romantic Comedy’, Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies, 27.5, 603–16. Jermyn, Deborah and Sean Redmond (2003) (eds) The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor, London: Wallflower Press. Johnson, Ted (2015) ‘Employment Commission to Interview Women Directors in Gender Discrimination Probe’, Variety, 6 October, available at: http://variety.com/2015/biz/news/eeoc-women-directorsgender-discrimination-aclu-1201611731/ [accessed 8 March 2016]. Johnston, Claire (1973) ‘Women’s Cinema as Counter-Cinema’, in Claire Johnston (ed.) Notes on Women’s Cinema (Screen Pamphlet 2), London: SEFT, 24–31. Jones, Ellen (2012) ‘We’re in the Mood for Love’, The Independent, 18 September, available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/hei-fi/ entertainment/were-in-the-mood-for-love-8152156.html [accessed 2 July 2016]. Kaklamanidou, Betty (2012) ‘Pride and Prejudice: Celebrity versus Fictional Cougars’, Celebrity Studies, 3.1, 78–89. Kaklamanidou, Betty (2013) Genre, Gender and the Effects of Neoliberalism: The New Millennium Hollywood Romcom, Abingdon and New York: Routledge. Kaufman, Amy (2009) ‘It’s Not Complicated: Nancy Meyers Is a Perfectionist’, Los Angeles Times, 26 December, available at: http:// articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/26/entertainment/la-et-meyers262009dec26 [accessed 24 May 2012]. Keaton, Diane (2013) ‘Nancy Meyers’, Elle (US), November, 339, 372. Keefe, Terry (2003) ‘Falling in Love Again with Diane Keaton’, Venice Magazine, December/January, available at: http://thehollywoodinterview. blogspot.com/search?q=dec+2003 [accessed 3 November 2011]. Keegan, Rebecca (2015) ‘Intern Director Nancy Meyers Reflects on Changes for Working Women and in Hollywood’, 25 September, Los Angeles Times, available at: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/ movies/la-et-mn-the-intern-nancy-meyers-20150925-story.html [accessed 1 September 2016]. Kerr, Sarah (1998) Review of The Parent Trap, The New Yorker, 10 August, n.p. Khan, Yasmeen (2014) ‘Why Is the Term Romcom Used so Negatively?’, BBC online, 8 May, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine27238736 [accessed 4 June 2015].

231

BIBLIOGRAPHY

231

Koenig Quartz, Barbara (1988) Women Directors: The Emergence of A New Cinema, New York: Praeger. Landesman, Cosmo (2001) ‘Twisted Thinking’, Sunday Times Magazine, 4 February, 11. Landesman, Cosmo (2006) ‘Oh, Please – Give Us a Break’, Sunday Times, 10 December, 13. Lang, Nico (2016a) ‘The Growing Gender Divide over Ghostbusters: Why Movies Starring Women Get Slimed by Male Critics’, salon.com, 12 July, available at: http://www.salon.com/ 2016/07/12/the_growing_gender_divide_over_ghostbusters_why_ movies_starring_women_get_slimed_by_male_critics [accessed 15 August 2016]. Lang, Nico (2016b) ‘The Tomatometer Gender Gap Is Real: We Crunched Numbers on Reviews of 100 Films Aimed at Women, and Here’s What We Found’, salon.com, 31 July, available at: http://www.salon.com/ 2016/07/31/the_tomatometer_gender_gap_is_real_we_crunched_ numbers_on_reviews_of_100_films_aimed_at_women_and_heres_ what_we_found/ [accessed 15 August 2016]. LaPorte, Nicole (2009) ‘Nancy Meyers’ Decorator Porn’, thedailybeast. com, 20 December, available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/ articles/2009/12/20/nancy-meyers-decorator-porn.html [accessed 11 September 2015]. Larocca, Amy (2015) ‘In Conversation: Nancy Meyers’, New York, 7 September, available at: http://www.vulture.com/2015/09/ nancy-meyers-amy-larocca-in-conversation.html# [accessed 11 September 2015]. Lawrence, Will (2006) ‘I Like the Telegraph So Much I Gave It a Starring Role in My Movie’, The Telegraph, 1 December, available at: http:// www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/starsandstories/3656847/I-likethe-Telegraph-so-much-I-gave-it-a-starring-role-in-my-movie.html [accessed 8 June 2013]. Legel, Laremy (2008) ‘Is Definitely, Maybe the Last of the Real Romantic Comedies?’, 24 June, film.com, available at: http://www.mtv.com/news/ 2759570/is-definitely-maybe-the-last-of-the-real-romantic-comedies/ [accessed 5 July 2016]. Lennon, Christine (2009) ‘Nancy Meyers Interview’, The Telegraph, 29 December, available at; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/ filmmakersonfilm/6874593/Nancy-Meyers-interview.html [accessed 21 March 2016]. Lennon, Elaine (2015) Pathways of Desire: Emotional Architecture in the Films of Nancy Meyers, Kindle, available at: www.amazon.com. Leonard, Suzanne (2007) ‘ “I Hate My Job, I Hate Everybody Here”: Adultery, Boredom, and the Working Girl in Twenty-FirstCentury American Cinema’, in Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra

23

232

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(eds), Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 100–31. Leonsis, Elle (2015) ‘Nancy Meyers on the Importance of Confidence and Why She’s a Writer at Heart’, Indiewire, 28 September, available at: http://www.indiewire.com/2015/09/nancy-meyers-on-theimportance-of-confidence-and-why-shes-a-writer-at-heart-57417/ [accessed 14 July 2016]. Levitin, Jacqueline, Judith Plessis and Valerie Raoul (2003) (eds) Women Filmmakers: Refocusing, London and New York: Routledge. Lewis, Marjorie (2009–10) ‘At the Top of Her Game Nancy Meyers Delivers a Hit for the Holidays’, Venice Magazine, December 2009– January 2010, 122, 125–26. Linden, Sheri (2004a) ‘Nancy Meyers: Director of the Year’, TheHollywoodReporter.com, 23 March, 31. Linden, Sheri (2004b) ‘Leading Lady’, The Hollywood Reporter, 23–29 March, 25, 27. Lippman, John (2003) ‘Sony Has a Senior Moment’, The Wall Street Journal, 7 November, W10. Locations Hub (2013) ‘The Film Locations of Nancy Meyers’ Romantic Comedy: The Holiday’, 8 January, LocationsHub, available at: http:// www.locationshub.com/blog/2013/10/27/the-film-locations-of-nancymeyers-romantic-comedy-the-holiday [accessed 9 January 2014]. Lodge, Guy (2015) Review of The Intern, Variety, 21 September, available at: http://variety.com/2015/film/reviews/the-intern-review-annehathaway-robert-de-niro-1201596471/ [accessed 25 August 2016]. Lumenick, Lou (2009) ‘Status Update: It’s Cheesy’, New York Post, 24 December, available at: http://nypost.com/2009/12/24/status-updateits-cheesy/ [accessed 1 September 2015]. McCabe, Janet (2004) Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema, London and New York: Wallflower Press. McCarthy, Todd (2000) Review of What Women Want, Variety, 10 December, available at: http://variety.com/2000/film/reviews/whatwomen-want-3-1117796916/ [accessed 1 September 2015]. McCarthy, Todd (2009) ‘Rich People, Not-so-Rich Comedy in Complicated’, Variety, 14–20 December, 29. MacDowell, James (2013) Happy Endings in Hollywood Cinema: Cliché, Convention and the Final Couple, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. McMillan Cottom, Tressie (2016) ‘Having It All Is Not a Feminist Theory of Change’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, available at: http://signsjournal.org/unfinished-business/ [accessed 16 August 2016]. McRobbie, Angela (2007) ‘Post-Feminism and Popular Culture’, Feminist Media Studies, 4.3, 255–64.

23

BIBLIOGRAPHY

233

McRobbie, Angela (2015) ‘Is Passionate Work a Neoliberal Delusion?’, ‘Transformation’ at opendemocracy.net, 22 April, available at: https:// www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/angela-mcrobbie/ispassionate-work-neoliberal-delusion [accessed 15 October 2015]. McWilliam, Kelly (2012) When Carrie Met Sally: Lesbian Romantic Comedies, London: I. B. Tauris. Magrs, Paul (2006) Never the Bride, London: Headline. Maier-Schwartz, Sagit (2013) ‘Hollywood Abhors an Aging Woman. Too Bad for Hollywood’, slate.com, 7 May, available at: http://www.slate. com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/05/07/hollywood_is_allergic_to_aging_ women_and_too_bad_for_them.html [accessed 9 May 2013]. Mandelbaum, Jacques (2013) ‘Alive and Kicking: The Changing View of Older People on the Silver Screen’, Guardian Weekly, 30 July, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jul/30/film-cinema-ageolder-people-france [accessed 1 August 2013]. Marron, Dylan (2016) ‘Every Single Word Spoken by a Person of Color in Every Single Movie Directed by Nancy Meyers’, everysinglewordspoken.tumblr.com, 23 March, available at: http:// everysinglewordspoken.tumblr.com/post/141548316088/every-singleword-spoken-by-a-person-of-color-in [accessed 12 September 2016]. Marshall, Kelli (2009) ‘Something’s Gotta Give and the Classical Screwball Comedy’, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 37.1, 9–15. Martin, Adrian (2014) Mise en Scène and Film Style: From Classical Hollywood to New Media Art, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Martinez, Julio (1987) ‘ Baby Boom Filmmaking Team Charles Shyer & Nancy Meyers’, Drama-Logue, 22–28 October, 6. Masters, Kim (2003) ‘Mature Actresses Garner Sexy Roles’, All Things Considered, 28 December, NPR, available at: http://www. npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1573815 [accessed 11 April 2016]. Mayer, Sophie (2016) Political Animals: The New Feminist Cinema, London: I. B. Tauris. Mayer, Sophie and Ania Ostrowska (2014) ‘An Invitation Is Not Enough’, Sight & Sound, December, available at: http://www.bfi.org.uk/ news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/comment/invitation-not-enough [accessed 2 August 2015]. Mayne, Judith (1990) The Woman at the Keyhole: Feminism and Women’s Cinema, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. Mendelson, Scott (2015a) ‘The Intern, with Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, Is a Fantastic Film’, forbes.com, 22 September, available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2015/09/22/reviewthe-intern-with-anne-hathaway-and-robert-de-niro-is-a-fantastic-film/ #7146fccc24b3 [accessed 19 April 2016].

234

234

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Mendelson, Scott (2015b) ‘The Intern Is the Box Office Winner We Can’t Ignore’, forbes.com, 23 September, available at: http://www.forbes. com/sites/scottmendelson/2015/10/23/the-intern-is-the-box-officewinner-we-cant-ignore/#6cf865f23c79 [accessed 19 April 2016]. Merkin, Daphne (2005) ‘Another Woman’, New York Times, 23 October, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/23/magazine/anotherwoman.html?_r=0 [accessed 14 April 2011] Merkin, Daphne (2009) ‘Can Anybody Make a Movie for Women?’, New York Times, 20 December, available at: http://www.nytimes. com/2009/12/20/magazine/20Meyers-t.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1& [accessed 7 August 2013]. Mernit, Billy (2001) Writing the Romantic Comedy, London: HarperCollins. Meyers, Nancy (2010) ‘The Ex Files; Nancy Meyers on Making a GrownUp Romcom’, The Times, 8 May, 13. Meyers, Nancy and Shyer, Charles (1989) ‘Feminist Heroines; Women as Victims’ (Letter to the Editor), New York Times, 13 August, Section 2, 3. Miller, Matt (2016) ‘Quentin Tarantino Had a Very Questionable Pick for One of the Best Movies of 2015’, Esquire, 22 January, available at: http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/news/a41431/ quentin-tarantino-favorite-movies/ [accessed 24 August 2016]. Minow, Nell (1998) Review of The Parent Trap, slate.com, 5 August, available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_breakfast_table/ features/1998/david_edelstein_and_nell_minow/100_greatest_ways_ to_boil_water.html [accessed 8 August 2016]. Mitchell, Sean (2000) ‘Getting in Touch with His Inner Cary Grant’, Los Angeles Times, 10 December, available at: http://articles.latimes.com/ 2000/dec/10/entertainment/ca-63488/3 [accessed 30 April 2015]. Mitchell, Elvis (2000) ‘Is There Any Hope for a Dyslexic Mind Reader’?, New York Times, 15 December, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/ 2000/12/15/movies/film-review-is-there-any-hope-for-a-dyslexic-mindreader.html [accessed 6 August 2013]. Morris, Wesley (2000) Review of What Women Want, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 December, available at: http://www.sfgate.com/movies/ article/Out-of-the-Minds-of-Babes-Gibson-becomes-mind-3236226. php [accessed 1 September 2015]. Mortimer, Claire (2010) Romantic Comedy, London and New York: Routledge. Neale, Steve (2000) Genre and Hollywood, London and New York: Routledge. Negra, Diane (2009) What a Girl Wants: Fantasizing the Reclamation of Self in Postfeminism, Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

235

BIBLIOGRAPHY

235

Nochimson, Martha P. (2010) ‘Kathryn Bigelow: Feminist Pioneer or Tough Guy in Drag?’, salon.com, 24 February, available at: http:// www.salon.com/2010/02/24/bigelow_3/ [accessed 6 April 2016]. O’Hara, Helen (2009) Review of It’s Complicated, Empire, n.d., available at: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/review.asp?FID=136649 [accessed 1 September 2015]. O’Sullivan, Charlotte (2001) Review of What Women Want, Sight & Sound, 11.3. Orr, Christopher (2004) ‘Movie Review: Something’s Gotta Give’, The Atlantic, 4 May, available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/ entertainment/archive/2004/05/the-movie-review-somethings-gottagive/69430/ [accessed 1 September 2015]. Orr, Deborah (2001) Review of What Women Want, Independent on Sunday, 28 January, n.p. Paramount Pictures (2000) Handbook of Production Information for What Women Want, held in the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles. Parker, James (2009) ‘Double-X Films’, The Atlantic, December, 36–37. Pfefferman, Naomi (2003) ‘Meyers Writes Her Own Happy Ending’, The Jewish Journal, 11 December, available at: http://www.jewishjournal. com/arts/article/meyers_writes_her_own_happy_ending_20031212 [accessed 30 April 2015]. Pomerantz, Dorothy (2012) ‘Disney’s Success and the Death of MidBudget Movies’, forbes.com, 28 August, available at: http://www.forbes. com/sites/dorothypomerantz/2012/08/28/disneys-success-and-the-deathof-mid-budget-movies/#78622aa3381e [accessed 19 April 2016]. Radner, Hilary (2011) Neo-Feminist Cinema: Girly Films, Chick Flicks and Consumer Culture, New York and Abingdon: Routledge. Ramanathan, Geeta (2007) Feminist Auteurs: Reading Women’s Films, London: Wallflower Press. Ramis, Harold (2009) ‘Acting Like a Director’, DGA Quarterly, Spring, available at: http://www.dga.org/Craft/DGAQ/All-Articles/ 0901-Spring-2009/Funny-Business-Harold-Ramis.aspx [accessed 7 August 2013]. Ramshaw, Emily (2016) ‘Nancy Meyers on the Hollywood Gender Gap & Lindsay Lohan’, The Coveteur, 19 January, available at: http://www. thecoveteur.com/2016/01/19/nancy-meyers-hollywood-gender-gaplindsay-lohan/ [accessed 17 February 2016]. Rickey, Carrie (2015) ‘With The Intern Nancy Meyers Keeps Exploring Women’s Relationships’, New York Times, 18 September, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/movies/with-the-internnancy-meyers-keeps-exploring-relationships.html?_r=0 [accessed 12 November 2015].

236

236

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Roberts, Jerry (2001) ‘Two Hearts and a Typewriter’, Variety, 5 March, available at: http://variety.com/2001/film/news/two-hearts-and-atypewriter-1117794792/ [accessed 30 June 2015]. Robey, Tim (2010) Review of It’s Complicated, The Telegraph, 7 January, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/ 6946761/Its-Complicated-review.html [accessed 16 May 2013]. Robey, Tim (2015) The Intern Review: “Smothers You with a Smile”’, The Telegraph, 1 October, available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ film/the-intern/review/ [accessed 12 November 2015]. Rocchi, James (2015) ‘The Intern Review: Anne Hathaway, Robert De Niro Boost This Bland Generation-Gap Comedy’, The Wrap, available at: http://www.thewrap.com/the-intern-review-anne-hathaway-robertde-niro-nancy-meyers/ [accessed 2 September 2016]. Rochlin, Margy (2000) ‘Out on Her Own Now, and Feeling Liberated’, New York Times, 10 December, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/ 2000/12/10/movies/film-out-on-her-own-now-and-feeling-liberated. html?pagewanted=all [accessed 6 August 2013]. Rochlin, Margy (2003) ‘They Hold the Purse Strings’, Los Angeles Times, 14 December, available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2003/dec/14/ entertainment/ca-rochlin14 [accessed 8 April 2016]. Rosenbaum, Jonathan (2006) Review of The Holiday, n.d., chicagoreader. com, available at: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/the-holiday/ Film?oid=1052338 [accessed 8 August 2016]. Rosenfield, Paul (1987) ‘Reconcilable Differences’, Los Angeles Times, 12 July, n.p. Rubenstein, Hal (1991) ‘Shyer & Meyers’, Mirabella, December, 62, 64. Ryan, Beth (2015) ‘Nancy Meyers: Her 7 Dreamiest, Creamiest Movie Houses’, The Telegraph, 8 October, available at: http://www.telegraph. co.uk/film/the-intern/nancy-meyers-pinterest-houses-interiors/ [accessed 18 March 2016]. Sancton, Julian (2009) ‘Q&A: Nancy Meyers on It’s Complicated’, Vanity Fair, 23 December, available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/ 2009/12/qa-nancy-meyers-on-its-complicated [accessed 6 August 2013]. Sarris, Andrew (2004) ‘A Little Movie ’bout Jack and Diane Proves Oldies Like Sex, Too’, New York Observer, 5 January, available at: http:// observer.com/2004/01/a-little-movie-bout-jack-diane-proves-oldieslike-sex-too/ [accessed 13 April 2010]. Schaap, Rob (2011) ‘No Country for Old Women: Gendering Cinema in Conglomerate Hollywood’, in Hilary Radner and Rebecca Stringer (eds), Feminism at the Movies: Understanding Gender in Contemporary Popular Cinema, New York and London: Routledge, 151–62.

237

BIBLIOGRAPHY

237

Schaefer, Stephen (1987) ‘The Human-Comedy Team: Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers’, Elle (US), October, 58. Schneider, Wolf (1987) ‘Baby Proves Boom to Spouses Meyers and Shyer’, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 October, n.p. Schreiber, Michelle (2014) American Postfeminist Cinema: Women, Romance and Contemporary Culture, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Schwarzbaum, Lisa (1998) Review of The Parent Trap, 7 August, EW.com, available at: http://www.ew.com/article/1998/08/07/parent-trap [accessed 8 August 2013]. Schweiger, Daniel (2000–2001) ‘Knowing What She Wants: Director Nancy Meyers Strikes Out on Her Own for What Women Want’, Venice Magazine, December 2000–January 2001, 28. Scott, A. O. (2003) ‘Weep, and the World Laughs Hysterically’, New York Times, 12 December, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/ 12/movies/film-review-weep-and-the-world-laughs-hysterically.html [accessed 4 April 2016]. Segal, Lynne (2013) Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing, London and New York: Verso. Shapiro, Ari (2015) ‘Director Nancy Meyers Makes Peace with Millennials in The Intern’, NPR, 24 September, transcript and recording available at: http://www.npr.org/2015/09/24/443159095/ director-nancy-meyers-makes-peace-with-millennials-in-the-intern [accessed 1 April 2016]. Shapiro, Laura and Corie Brown (1998) ‘Hollywood Family Values’, Newsweek, 3 August, 66. Shoard, Catherine (2006) ‘You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry’ (review of The Holiday), The Sunday Telegraph, 10 December, 22. Siegelo, Tatiana (2013) ‘Revenge of the Over-40 Actress’, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 June, available at: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/ news/sandra-bullock-melissa-mccarthy-beyond-562530 [accessed 18 June 2013]. Silverstein, Melissa (2009) ‘The Nancy Meyers Effect’, womenandhollywood.com, 18 December, available at: http:// womenandhollywood.com/2009/12/18/the-nancy-meyers-effect/ [accessed 30 April 2015]. Silverstein, Melissa (2015) ‘The Contradictory Feminism of Nancy Meyers’ The Intern’, 28 September, indiwire.com, available at; http://www.indiewire.com/2015/09/the-contradictory-feminism-ofnancy-meyers-the-intern-213252/ [accessed 15 March 2016] Sims, Deborah M. (2014) ‘Genre, Fame and Gender: The Middle-Aged Ex-Wife Heroine of Nancy Meyers’s Something’s Gotta Give’, in

238

238

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aaron Barlow (ed), Star Power: The Impact Of Branded Celebrity Vol I, Westport: Praeger, 191–205. Slaughter, Anne-Marie (2012) ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’, The Atlantic, July/August, available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/ magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/ [accessed 22 August 2016]. Slaughter, Anne-Marie (2015) Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, New York: Random House. Smith, Anna (2010) Review of It’s Complicated, Time Out London, 5 January, available at: http://www.timeout.com/london/film/itscomplicated [accessed 15 August 2013]. Smith, Darryl (2005) ‘The Ever-Changing Star’, The Sunday Post Magazine, December, n.p. Sontag, Susan (1972) ‘The Double Standard of Ageing’, The Saturday Review, 23 September, 29–38, available at: http://www.unz.org/Pub/ SaturdayRev-1972sep23-00029 [accessed 11 September 2016]. Sony Pictures (2003) Press kit for Something’s Gotta Give (2003), available in the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Library, Beverley Hills, California. Stahl, Lesley (2004) ‘Diane Keaton: The Comeback Kid’, CBS, 13 February, available at: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/diane-keatonthe-comeback-kid/ [accessed 11 September 2016]. Stamp, Elizabeth (2015) ‘Tour the Stylish Sets of The Intern’, 24 September, Architectural Digest, available at: http://www. architecturaldigest.com/gallery/intern-movie-set-design/all [accessed 1 September 2016]. Stein, Ruthe (2006) ‘Creativity Takes a Holiday in House Swap Romance’, The San Francisco Chronicle, 8 December, available at: http://www. sfgate.com/movies/article/Creativity-takes-a-Holiday-in-house-swapromance-2543872.php [accessed 1 September 2015]. Stevens, Dana (2006) ‘Trading Spaces’, slate.com, 8 December, available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2006/12/trading_spaces. html [accessed 6 August 2013]. Swartz, Mimi (2004) Review of Something’s Gotta Give, available at: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer. html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=1590875&m=1590876 [accessed 2 November 2011]. Sweeten, Julia (2008) Hooked on Houses, blog available at: http:// hookedonhouses.net/about-2/ [accessed 15 September 2014]. Tally, Margaret (2008) ‘Something’s Gotta Give: Hollywood, Female Sexuality and the “Older Bird” Chick Flick’, in S. Ferriss and M. Young (eds), Chick Flicks: Contemporary Women at the Movies, Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 119–31.

239

BIBLIOGRAPHY

239

Tasker, Yvonne (2002) Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers, London and New York: Routledge. Tasker, Yvonne (2011) Soldiers’ Stories: Military Women in Cinema and Television since World War II, Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Thompson, Lauren Jade (2013) ‘Mancaves and Cushions: Marking Masculine and Feminine Domestic Space in Postfeminist Romantic Comedy’, in Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller (eds), Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 149–65. Tobias, Scott (2006) Review of The Holiday, The A. V. Club, 7 December, available at: http://www.avclub.com/review/the-holiday-3672 [accessed 19 July 2016]. Topel, Fred (2006) ‘Nancy Meyers: Late Bloomer’, in P. McGilligan (ed.), Backstory 4: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1970s and 1980s, Berkeley: University of California Press, 262–73. Burch, Tory (2015) ‘Director Nancy Myers On: The Intern’, 29 September, available at: http://www.toryburch.co.uk/blog-post/blog-post. html?bpid=129111 [accessed 1 September 2016]. Traister, Rebecca (2003) ‘Middle-Aged Woman Wallops Tom Cruise!’, 16 December, salon.com, available at: http://www.salon.com/2003/12/16/ menopause/ [accessed 24 July 2016] United Artists (1987) Press release for Baby Boom, available in the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Library, Beverley Hills, California. Universal Pictures (2006) Press kit for The Holiday, available in the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Library, Beverley Hills, California Walt Disney (1998) Press kit for The Parent Trap, available in the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library of Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Library, Beverley Hills, California Warner Bros (1980) Inter-office Memo ref Private Benjamin Audience Reaction Study (Denver), 18 September (From Rob Friedman to Sandy Reisenbach), available in the archives of the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverley Hills, California, F.405 – The Marty Weiser Collection. Warner Bros (2015) The Intern: Production Notes, available at: http:// www.warnerbros2015.com/hfpa/assets/pdf/INTERN_Production_ Notes.pdf [accessed 12 March 2016]. Wearing, Sadie (2007) ‘Subjects of Rejuvenation: Aging in Postfeminist Culture’, in Diane Negra and Yvonne Tasker (eds), Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 227–310. Weber, Bruce (2004) ‘Lifetime of Comedy? Well La-dee-da; Diane Keaton Reflects on Keeping ’Em Laughing’, New York Times, 17 March,

240

240

BIBLIOGRAPHY

available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/17/movies/a-lifetime-ofcomedy-well-la-dee-da-diane-keaton-reflects-on-keeping-em-laughing. html [accessed 11 September 2016]. Whelehan, Imelda (2013) ‘Ageing Appropriately: Postfeminist Discourses of Ageing in Contemporary Hollywood’, in Joel Gwynne and Nadine Muller (eds), Postfeminism and Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 78–94. Wiggers, Darryl (2010) ‘Enough Already: The Wonderful, Horrible Reception of Nancy Meyers’, CineAction, 81, 65–72. Williams, Melanie (2015) ‘The Best Exotic Graceful Ager: Dame Judi Dench and Older Female Celebrity’, in Deborah Jermyn and Su Holmes (eds) Women, Celebrity & Cultures of Ageing: Freeze Frame, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 146–61. Wolcott, James (2010) ‘Carrie Bradshaw Meet Mildred Pierce’, Vanity Fair, August, 600, 44–45. Writers Guild Foundation (2010) ‘Anatomy of a Script with Nancy Meyers’, 31 March, available at: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=DVe94fimNVg [accessed 19 July 2016]. York, Ashley Elaine (2010) ‘From Chick Flicks to Millennial Blockbusters: Spinning Female-Driven Narratives into Franchises’, Journal of Popular Culture, 43.1, 3–25. Zacharek, Stephanie (2000) Review of What Women Want, 15 December, salon.com, available at: http://www.salon.com/2000/12/15/what_ women_want/ [accessed 19 July 2016]. Zacharek, Stephanie (2006) Review of The Holiday, 8 December, salon. com, available at: http://www.salon.com/2006/12/08/holiday_5/ [accessed 6 August 2013].

Filmography 13 Going on 30 (Gary Winick, 2004) 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) Adam’s Rib (George Cukor, 1949) The Affair of the Necklace (Charles Shyer, 2001) Alfie (Charles Shyer, 2004) And So It Goes (Rob Reiner, 2014) Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977) The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) Apocalypse Now (Francis Coppola, 1979) Baby Boom (Charles Shyer, 1987) Because I Said So (Michael Lehmann, 2007) The Big Wedding (Justin Zackham, 2013)

241

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (Ernst Lubitsch, 1938) Bridesmaids (Paul Feig, 2011) Broadcast News (James L. Brooks, 1987) Calendar Girls (Nigel Cole, 2003). Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) Death Becomes Her (Robert Zemeckis, 1992) Driving Miss Daisy (Bruce Beresford, 1989) Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003) Enchanted (Kevin Lima, 2007) Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener, 2013) Father’s Little Dividend (Vincente Minelli, 1951) Father of the Bride (Vincente Minelli, 1950) Father of the Bride (Charles Shyer, 1991) Father of the Bride Part II (Charles Shyer, 1995) The First Wives Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996) Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, 2008) Friends With Benefits (Will Gluck, 2011) The Front Page (Billy Wilder, 1974) Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016) The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) Holiday (George Cukor, 1938) The Holiday (Nancy Meyers, 2006) Hope Springs (David Frankel, 2012) House Calls (Howard Zieff, 1978) The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008) I Could Never Be Your Woman (Amy Heckerling, 2007) The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015) The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011) Irreconcilable Differences (Charles Shyer, 1984) It’s Complicated (Nancy Meyers, 2009) Julie and Julia (Nora Ephron, 2009) Jumpin’ Jack Flash (Penny Marshall, 1986) Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Kate and Leopold (James Mangold, 2001) The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946) Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007) The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941) The Last Samurai (Edward Zwick, 2003) Mama’s Boy (Tim Hamilton, 2007) Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

241

24

242

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A Man and a Woman (Claude Lelouch, 1966) Man Up (Ben Palmer, 2015) Marley and Me (David Frankel, 2008) Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945) Min and Bill (George Hill, 1930) Miracles of Morgan’s Creek (Preston Sturges, 1944) Mr and Mrs Smith (Doug Liman, 2005) Mrs Soffel (Gillian Armstrong, 1984) Must Love Dogs (Gary David Goldberg, 2005) My Big Fat Greek Wedding (Joel Zwick, 2002) Ocean’s Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001) Once Upon a Crime (Eugene Levy, 1992) Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998) The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961) The Parent Trap (Nancy Meyers, 1998) Pat and Mike (George Cukor, 1952) The Philadelphia Story (George Cukor, 1940) Pretty Woman (Garry Marshall, 1990) Private Benjamin (Howard Zieff, 1980) Protocol (Herbert Ross, 1984) The Rebound (Bart Freundlich, 2009) Reds (Warren Beatty, 1981) Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme, 2015) Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959) Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945) Searching for Debra Winger (Rosanna Arquette, 2002) Sex and the City (Michael Patrick King, 2008) She-Devil (Susan Seidelman, 1989) Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Something’s Gotta Give (Nancy Meyers, 2003) Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950) Sweet Home Alabama (Andy Tennant, 2002) Switching Channels (Ted Kotcheff, 1988) They Came Together (David Wain, 2014) The Thin Man (W. S. Van Dyke, 1934) The Ugly Truth (Robert Luketic, 2009) An Unmarried Woman (Paul Mazursky, 1978) What Women Want (Nancy Meyers, 2000) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988) Woman of the Year (George Stevens, 1942) Working Girl (Mike Nichols, 1988) You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron, 1998)

243

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Television Baby Boom (NBC, USA, 1988–9) The King of Queens (CBS, USA, 1998–2007) The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, USA, 1970–7) The Odd Couple (CBS, USA, 1970–5) Password (CBS, 1961–7; ABC, 1971–75; USA) The Price Is Right (NBC, 1956–63; ABC, 1963–5; CBS, 1972–; USA) Private Benjamin (CBS, USA, 1981–3) Scenes from a Marriage (Cinematograph, Sweden, 1973)

243

24

245

INDEX

9-5 36 13 Going on 30, 74, 211 500 Days of Summer 70

authorship/auteurism xvii, 17–18, 31–2, 35, 101, 109–58, 159, 164

A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme) 107 Abbott, Stacey & Deborah Jermyn 71, 159 Adam’s Rib 37, 39, 40 aesthetics xv, 32, 103–4, 105, 126–7, 135, 146–58, 187, 195 The Affair of the Necklace 43 ageing (inc older/ageing women) xvii, 10, 13, 14, 26, 49, 89, 130, 131, 138–9, 143–4, 161–20 Akerman, Chantal 121 Alfie 43 Allen, Woody 69, 110, 158, 173–4 Altman, Rick 69 An Unmarried Woman 49–50, 51 And So It Goes 163 Annie Hall 70, 173–4, 176 The Apartment 72–3, 178 Apatow, Judd 6, 77, 110, 137 Arquette, Rosanna 161, 162, 175 Arzner, Dorothy 124, 125–6 audience(s) xv–xvi, xvii, 6, 10, 54–5, 61, 66, 71, 77–8, 93, 102, 115, 130, 131, 132, 150, 153, 155, 156, 162, 163, 165, 166–7, 169, 172, 178, 180, 184–5, 196, 204, 207–8, 217, 218

Baby Boom viii, 3, 14, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 50–4, 80, 130, 139–40, 141, 147, 175, 178 Baldwin, Alec 165, 181, 203, 207 Barthes, Roland 123 Because I Said So 173, 175 Bechdel Test 183, 184, 212 Bergman, Ingmar 206 Bergstrom, Janet 10 The Big Wedding 163 Bigelow, Kathryn 27, 30, 87, 103, 104, 108, 124 Black, Jack viii, xiii, 94, 99, 181 Black Mass 216 Block, Bruce A. 33, 183 Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife 97, 101 Bolton, Lucy 159 Bordwell, David 84, 135 Bowdre, Karen 89 box office figs/performance xiv, xviii, 1, 5, 6, 27, 56, 59, 76, 77, 78, 95, 109, 110, 113, 125, 157, 163, 164, 168, 171, 176, 196, 197, 202, 203, 213, 216, 217 Bridesmaids 21, 217 Broadcast News 36 Bulankova, Zhanna xiii, 94, 181

246

246

INDEX

Capra, Frank 24 Caughie, John 122 Cavell, Stanley 92 ‘Chick-flicks’ xiv, 1, 6, 21, 26, 54, 78, 100, 109, 111, 114–15, 116, 121, 128, 133, 134, 145, 148, 157, 159, 165, 172, 178, 189, 191, 216–17 Chivers, Sally 169 Cinema Paradiso 101 class xiv, xvii, 8, 10, 42, 52, 84, 88, 130, 132, 149–50, 159, 182, 191, 192, 208 Classical Hollywood style xiv, 10, 11, 12, 24, 38, 95, 120, 177, 188 The Coen Brothers 110 Colwell, K. C. 33 Comden, Betty 43 commercialism 7, 9, 17, 93, 171 Contemporary Hollywood 12, 94, 107, 145–6, 162, 172–3, 184–5, 197, 216–18 The Conversation 135 Corrigan, Timothy 119 criticism/reception of Meyers xiii–xvi, 2, 7, 11, 14, 16–25, 51–4, 65–105, 109–58, 166–7, 203–4 Cukor, George 92, 101 Curtin, Valerie 43 Day, Doris 75, 80 Death Becomes Her 203, 213 De Niro, Robert 1, 118, 142, 164, 181 del Toro, Guillermo 46, 47 Deleyto, Celestino 70, 71–2, 82, 93, 104, 130, 208 The Devil Wears Prada 197 dialogue xv, 8–9, 13, 22, 35, 36, 83, 88, 101, 127, 142, 146, 149, 177, 181–6, 218

Diaz, Vanessa 44 divorce 4, 12–13, 74, 130, 131, 133, 164, 179, 189, 198, 199, 201 Driving Miss Daisy 99 Dyer, Richard 180 editing/montage(s) 33–4, 59, 87, 91, 99–100, 107, 126, 133, 134, 150, 155–7, 178, 184, 193 Elf 113 Ellis, John 78, 106 Enchanted 113 endings/resolution 7, 57, 61, 70, 71, 73, 81–7, 106, 144, 206–8 Enough Said 163 Ephron, Nora 3–4, 6, 16, 76, 103, 104, 107 Evans, Peter & Celestino Deleyto 71 Faludi, Susan 51, 53–4 Fans/fandom 1, 12, 94, 95, 97, 115–17, 135, 165 Farwell, Suzanne 33 Fatal Attraction 51 Father of the Bride (1950) 26, 41, 54 Father of the Bride (1991) 1, 3, 54–5, 62, 175 Father of the Bride Part II (1995) 3, 4, 62, 175, 211 feminism (inc ‘second wave’/ ‘woman’s movement’) xvi, xvii, 3, 4, 6, 7–9, 20, 38, 42, 49, 50, 51, 55, 56, 57, 60, 61, 65–6, 124–5, 140, 141–2, 143, 181, 185, 196, 201, 202, 204, 215–16, 219 feminist film criticism xvii, 7–8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 26, 29, 109–58, 159, 197, 202, 211, 215, 216

247

INDEX

‘feminist-minded moment’ 9, 61, 83, 89, 142, 182 Ferriss, Suzanne & Mallory Young 159 The First Wives Club 174 food xv–xvi, 22, 65, 144, 193, 194 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 113 Four Weddings and a Funeral xii Frankel, David 197 Friends With Benefits 107 The Front Page 36 Gaines, Jane 8, 125–6 Garrett, Roberta 159 The Geena Davis Institute 15 Gender and genre xvii, 6, 20, 60, 65–105, 108, 110–11, 113, 157–8, 216 Geraghty, Christine 180 ‘Gerontocom’ 131, 163–4, 167, 171, 197, 201 Ghostbusters (2015) 8, 114 Glitre, Katharina xv, 9, 57, 60, 71, 78, 85, 130, 133, 134, 215 The Godfather 135, 175 Goldsmith, Josh 74 Goodrich, Frances 26 The Graduate 107, 208 Grant, Adolph 43 Grant, Cary 37, 41, 42 Gravagne, Pamela H. 164, 169 Green, Adolph 43 Grindon, Leger 70–1 Guy-Blaché, Alice 124 Gwynne, Joel xi Hackett, Albert 26 Hamad, Hannah 106 Harrod, Mary 71, 159 Hathaway, Anne viii, 140, 142, 145, 147, 164 ‘having it all’ 14, 35, 51, 52, 54, 141, 143

247

Hawks, Howard 24, 37, 72 Hawn, Goldie 50, 59, 116 Hecht, Ben 39, 101 Heckerling, Amy 210 Hepburn, Katherine 37, 39, 40, 92, 175 His Girl Friday 35, 37, 38–9, 41 Hitchcock, Alfred 87, 126 Hobbs, Alex 199 Hoffman, Dustin 107 Holiday 92, 101 The Holiday xviii, ix, xiii, xiv, xv, 11–12, 26, 27, 32, 33, 65, 73, 88, 90–101, 106, 113, 115, 126, 130, 132, 134, 136, 147, 156, 157, 178, 181, 184, 195, 212 Hollinger, Karen 122–3, 124–5, 202–3 Hollywood and sexism 3, 15, 19, 21, 25, 27, 30–2, 103–4, 109–19 The home/houses/interiors xiii, xv, 13, 19, 27, 32, 55, 75, 93, 105–6, 134–5, 146–58, 187, 194, 195, 198, 212, 213 Home Again 219 Homme-com/bromance 6, 77, 113, 137 Hope Springs 163, 196–7 Hunt, Helen 5, 78, 84 The Hurt Locker 103 Hutman, Jon 33, 151 Hutshing, Joe 33–4, 150 I Could Never Be Your Woman 163, 210 I Love Trouble 3, 35, 38, 49, 50, 62, 63 intergenerationality/crossgenerationality 13, 55, 96, 129, 131, 136, 143–4, 145–6, 164, 191, 205

248

248

INDEX

The Intern xv, viii, 1, 2, 13–14, 22, 26, 33, 42, 43, 48, 63, 86, 96, 98, 102, 115, 116–88, 128, 130, 136–46, 147–8, 150, 154, 164, 167, 178, 193, 195, 216–17, 218 intertextuality/reflexivity 11, 24, 30, 39, 50, 73, 84, 90–1, 96, 107, 126, 131–2, 138, 180 The Iron Lady 203 Irreconcilable Differences 3, 29– 40, 31, 73, 102 It’s Complicated ix, xii, xiii, xiv, 2, 8, 12–13, 18–19, 22, 26, 32, 33, 62, 65, 67, 89, 102, 105, 115, 118, 130, 131, 132, 133, 136, 138, 145, 147, 150, 154, 156, 163–210 Jeffers McDonald, Tamar 6, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 77, 113, 159 Jermyn, Deborah 10, 12, 19, 20, 27, 30, 68, 108, 169, 176, 189, 203, 212 Jermyn, Deborah &, Janet McCabe 188, 196, 206 Johnston, Claire 10, 127–8 Judaism/Jewishness 2, 19, 58, 63, 97 Julie & Julia 19, 62, 168, 197 Jumpin’ Jack Flash 3, 27 Jurassic Park 33 Kaklamanidou, Betty 70, 71, 165, 192, 195, 210–11 Kanin, Garson 39, 41, 42 Kate and Leopold 211 Keaton, Diane xi, 3, 35, 46, 169, 173–7, 179–81, 186, 187–8, 191, 192, 205, 211, 212, 217 The Killers 30 The King of Queens 74 Knocked Up 13 Koenig Quart, Barbara 60

The Lady Eve 92 Lauzen Martha M. 111 Law, Jude 94 Lelouch, Claude 107 Leonard, Suzanne 42, 194 Levinson, Barry 43 Lloyd, Phyllida 203 Lohan, Lindsey 5, 99, 105–6 Lombard, Carole 37, 175 ‘Long’ filmmaking xiv, 13, 94, 127, 130–1, 146, 184–5 Love Story 70 Lubitsch, Ernst 24, 39, 97, 101 Lucas, George 23 Lupino, Ida 124 MacDowell, James 81, 84, 86, 87, 208 Mama’s Boy 173 Mamma Mia! 18, 78, 163, 168, 171, 196–7, 202, 203, 204, 213 Man Up xiii marketing 22, 39, 78, 100, 106, 180 Marley and Me 197 Marshall, Kelli 11, 165, 166 Martin, Adrian 135 Martin, Steve ix, 3, 165, 194, 206–7, 211 Mayer, Sophie 125, 159 Mayer, Sophie & Ania Ostrowska 211 Mayne, Judith 125, 126 McCabe, Janet 121 McDormand, Frances 181, 183, 186 McMillan Cottom, Tressie 52 McRobbie, Angela 66, 143, 194, 213 Meyers, Nancy as auteur 13, 17, 31, 35, 42, 48, 94, 109–58, 164, 178 biography 16, 19–25

249

INDEX

and feminism/as feminist 3–4, 8, 9, 50, 55–62, 87, 89, 132, 140–3, 158, 181–3, 194, 202, 215–16, 219 reception/criticism of xiii–xvi, 2, 7, 11, 14, 16–25, 51–4, 65– 105, 109–58, 166–7, 203–4 as ‘rom-com queen’ xiv, 25, 26, 65–105, 110, 146 and style/mise-en-scène xiv, xv, 19, 31, 42, 75, 83, 117, 125–6, 135, 146–58 as woman director xv, xvi, 3, 7– 8, 14–15, 45–7, 103–4, 219 as writer 5, 21, 22–3, 28, 34, 35, 36–63, 73–4 Mernit, Billy xiii Meyers-Shyer, Hallie 5, 219 Mildred Pierce 21 Miller, Harvey 2, 3, 25, 36, 56, 57 Min and Bill 163 Minelli, Vincente 54 Miracles of Morgan’s Creek 37 Mirren, Helen 16, 162 Mise-en-scène/style xv, 19, 32, 42, 75, 83, 93, 123, 126, 135, 146–58, 187–8, 192, 195 Morricone, Ennio 101 Morris, Tess xiii Mortimer, Claire 70 motherhood/working mothers 23–4, 48, 51–4, 133, 139, 140–5, 200–1 Mrs Soffell 175 The MTM Show/Mary Tyler Moore 20–1, 27 ‘mumpreneur’ 51, 53–4, 139 music viii, 33, 46, 62, 73, 75, 83, 91, 98–9, 107, 144, 188 Must Love Dogs 163 My Big Fat Greek Wedding xvii narration see voiceover Neale, Steve 69, 192

249

Negra, Diane 193–4, 200–1, 209–10 neoliberalism 143, 193, 194, 209, 213 Nicholson, Jack viii, 45, 47, 151, 165, 171, 176, 177, 178, 179, 180–1, 186 Nochimson, Martha P. 103–4, 126 Nolte, Nick 35, 39, 62 nostalgia 11, 24, 37, 41, 75, 98, 101, 174 Ocean’s Eleven 138 Older women see ageing Once Upon a Crime 3, 27 Out of Sight 72 Palmer, Ben xiii The Parent Trap (1961) 4–5, 62, 129, 131–2 The Parent Trap viii, 4–5, 25, 26, 33, 62, 86, 97, 102, 105, 106, 128–36, 147, 155, 164, 166 Pat and Mike 41 personal stories/filmmaking 13, 14, 17, 26, 39, 42, 44, 53, 57–8, 66–7, 74, 122, 123, 139, 154, 167, 168, 179–80, 218 The Philadelphia Story 40 pleasure xiv, xv, 7, 10, 12, 22, 70, 73, 94, 95–100, 101, 120, 121, 123, 127, 129, 131, 135, 146, 153, 155, 165, 176, 186, 188, 190, 194, 196, 203, 204, 215 porn- (porn-suffix) xiii, xvi, 7, 148, 149, 150, 153, 203, 206 postfeminism xvi, 3, 38, 42, 51, 53, 54, 65, 100, 132, 142, 148, 158, 193, 200, 201, 210 Potter, Sally 121 Pretty Woman 83 Private Benjamin 1, 2, 3, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, 36, 40, 42, 49, 50, 55–61, 63, 102, 130, 215 Protocol 3, 27

250

250

INDEX

race xiv, xvii, 2, 8–9, 10, 18, 42, 44, 52, 84, 88–9, 105, 130, 132, 149, 158, 159, 164, 168, 182, 191, 200, 208, 215, 219 Radin, James 32, 153 Radner, Hilary 116, 180, 185 Ramanathan, Geeta 159 Ramis, Harold 35 The Rebound 210 Redmond, Sean 124 resolution see endings Ricki and The Flash 196–7 Rio Bravo 72 Roberts, Julia 39, 49, 50, 62 romcom/romantic comedy viii, xii, xiii, xiv, xvi, 6, 7, 9, 12, 21, 24, 65–105, 107, 110, 111, 112–15, 130, 148, 153, 159, 163, 173, 174, 175–6, 186, 188, 190–205, 208, 209 Rubino, Beth 62, 151–2 Rushton, Richard 159 Russell, Rosalind 37, 41, 175 Sarris, Andrew 123, 163, 177 Scarlet Street 30 Scenes From a Marriage 206 Schaap, Rob 162, 172 Schreiber, Michelle 120, 193, 207 Scorsese, Martin 23, 110, 126 screwball xii, 10, 11, 24, 37, 68, 109, 131, 165, 175, 176, 207 Searching for Debra Winger 161–2, 175 Segal, Lynne 174 sex/sexuality xvii, 7, 10, 12, 25, 38, 53, 56, 59, 65, 72, 75, 77, 81, 82, 84, 89, 105, 106, 125, 158, 164, 168, 172, 176, 178, 185, 188–9, 191, 197, 202, 204, 208, 210 Sex and the City 78 Shakespeare, William 90, 92, 93, 94

She-Devil 202 Shyer, Charles xvii, 2, 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 23–5, 26, 27, 29–63, 73, 102, 119, 129, 178 Shyer, Melville 30 Silverstein, Melissa 15, 158, 218–19 Silvestri, Alan 62 Sims, Deborah S. 109–10, 111, 115, 117, 119, 126, 158, 190, 215 Sinatra, Frank 75, 76 Singin’ In the Rain 62 Sirk, Douglas xv, 84 Slaughter, Anne-Marie 51–2 Something’s Gotta Give viii, ix, 9–10, 26, 32, 33, 45, 49, 62–3, 66, 67, 71, 84, 86, 89, 98, 99, 130, 131, 136, 138, 146, 147, 150–3, 155–6, 162–210, 213, 215 Sontag, Susan 192 Spielberg, Steven 23 Spungen, Susan 193 Stanwyck, Barbara 93, 101 Stark, Ray 24 Streep, Meryl xi, 18–19, 168, 169, 188, 196–7, 202–5, 208–9 Sturges, Preston 24, 37, 45, 87, 101 Sunset Boulevard 37, 40, 43 Sweet Home Alabama 211 Swift, David 4, 62 Switching Channels 36 Tally, Margaret 189, 191, 195 Tarantino, Quentin 23, 101, 110, 117, 118, 126 Tasker, Yvonne 17, 60 Tavoularis, Dean 105, 135 Tennant, Andy 69 They Came Together 107 The Thin Man 41 Thompson, Kristin 135

251

INDEX

Thompson, Lauren Jade 75–6, 148–9 Tomei, Marisa 88 Tracey, Spencer 39, 40 voiceover/Narration 90, 91, 92, 100, 138, 177–8 Waverley Films 22, 23, 33 Wearing, Sadie 186, 187, 189, 191, 196, 212 What Women Want viii, xiv, xviii, 1, 4, 5–7, 26, 27, 31, 33, 41, 43–4, 45, 62, 73–88, 98, 105, 130, 140, 156, 178, 181, 190, 193, 206 Whelehan, Imelda xi, 208 whiteness see Race Who Framed Roger Rabbit 33 Wiggers, Daryl 6, 16, 23, 24, 77–8, 84, 110, 117, 165, 178, 206 Wilder, Billy 24, 37, 43, 72, 178

251

Williams, Melanie 169 The ‘woman-at-her-desk’ viii, 42, 43, 61, 80, 139 Woman of the Year 37 Women filmmakers xvi, 3, 7, 14–15, 27, 45–6, 47–8, 103–4, 109–58 Women’s talk/voices 79, 80, 181–6, 204, 213 Working Girl 36 working mothers/motherhood 23–4, 48, 51–4, 133, 139, 140–5, 201 workplace & working women 13, 14, 35, 42, 48, 49–54, 58, 61, 78–9, 80, 132–234, 139–45, 165, 192–5, 202, 206 You’ve Got Mail 107 Zieff, Howard 24 Zimmer, Hans 33, 46, 98, 99

25